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Op-ed | Speaker’s Constructive Tone Masks Poisoned Lies on NGOs

Speaker Shalva Papuashvili has once again attacked NGOs and their donors. Urging them to be “constructive”, the Speaker is accusing CSOs of lacking transparency and accountability, and of displaying political bias. This isn’t the first time he’s unleashed such tirades, and it demands a response.

Levan Tsutskiridze is Executive Director of the Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy/EECMD

Transparency: While this issue has been thoroughly addressed in the past, it’s worth reiterating that NGOs have a vested interest in transparency: the more organizations that fund and support our work, the greater the likelihood of attracting new supporters. We consistently publish all relevant information. Moreover, bilateral treaties already address foreign assistance priorities while the revenue and tax offices are fully aware of NGO funding as per tax legislation. So, the state possesses comprehensive knowledge of funding streams, and the public can access all relevant information from the NGOs themselves. Simply put, this is a problem that doesn’t exist.

On the other hand, the Georgian Dream party is notorious for being non-transparent and has consistently scored dismally in the intra-party democracy studies that we are producing regularly.

Political influence: Papuashvili’s attacks on NGOs for attempting to “influence politics” are antithetical to the core principles of democracy. NGOs have legitimate reasons and rights to influence politics; without this, democracy would be incomplete, relying solely on political parties for input into the political and policy process. Human rights, government transparency, disaster response failures, corruption and election integrity are all inherently political issues. Speaker Papuashvili deliberately conflates electoral aims with credible political objectives and misinforms the public about the role and function of NGOs. Unpacking officials lies, seeking transparency and having a policy position is not something that is disruptive to democracy, quite on the contrary.

Support to Political Parties: Papuashvili criticizes some NGOs for their “partisan” affiliation. As someone who had spent years working for the German International Cooperation (GIZ), a state donor agency, Speaker surely is fully aware of the importance of political party-affiliated NGOs and foundations for democracy and political party development. It is exactly how it works in Germany as well as in many EU countries and in the United States, too – it is a common democratic practice. But by targeting such NGOs, Papuashvili betrays a fear of potential strengthening of the political opposition in the country, the positive role that such NGOs can play in this and tries to undercut their credibility to the detriment of a more pluralistic political playing field.

Generally speaking, the criticism of NGOs for supporting the development of political parties is both absurd and hypocritical. Strengthening political parties is a fundamental aspect of democracy assistance. We need more, not less political party development support in Georgia. Ironically, we at EECMD have worked with the Georgian Dream party for years, yet I don’t recall Chairman Papuashvili speaking up Actually, I don’t recall him at all during these difficult years when we were all taking significant risks by extending development support to GD in 2011 and 2012.

Accountability: Papuashvili’s claims that NGOs are lacking in accountability to the public are also problematic. We need not be mistaken by these misinformation tactics: NGOs are primarily accountable to their members, founders, partners, and the public – through financial declarations and taxation, but because they serve public interests, they still deliver a higher standard of accountability than any other sector in the country. NGOs are not state institutions that must be made accountable to Papuashvili.

Why the lies?

Papuashvili’s aims to discredit organizations not loyal to the GD and independent of it. He wants to pressure donors into withholding support from critical organizations engaged in vital democracy work at a critical moment in Georgia as national elections are at a doorstep. This can only result in further distortion of the political landscape in favor of the ruling party and close the democratic space.

With his baseless, unsubstantiated arguments, Papuashvili undermines dialogue and cooperation with civil society, drives polarization further, and spreads disinformation. Such attacks contravene the nine recommendations EU provided to Georgia last year and directly undermine Georgia’s EU path.

The international community must take notice of this trend. Letting these baseless attacks go unanswered will only bring forth dire consequences to Georgia’s democracy. We shall remember that they come from the leader of the Parliament, who wanted to adopt the “Russian Law” in Georgia, and thus kill its democracy and EU perspective with one fell blow. In this his party failed, in the face of determined opposition of the Georgia society. But there is no reason to trust that they will not try again.

Finally, I would like to offer a piece of advice to the Speaker: instead of lamenting the nonexistent issue of CSO accountability, he could at least try to hold the Georgian government accountable where both transparency and accountability had steadily declined over the years. Doing so is his actual constitutional duty. In this, Mr. Speaker can count on our full support.

The views and opinions expressed on opinions pages are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of editorial staff

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian)


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