Georgian government ignores financial transparency principles
23 December, 2010
Georgian government ignores financial transparency principles

Georgian government eludes disclosure of salary and bonus-related expenses, thus violating the law on publicity of public finances according to which all state budget-based finances must be transparent.
To make governmental spending transparent a new internet portal of public information www.opendata.ge is launched.  The web page provides information on budgets, reserve funds and payroll funds of ministries as well as bonuses received by ministers and other public officials.  Communication and fuel expenses of government officials and other public information are

available to the public too.
The web page material  is based on the official information submitted by the ministries alone at the moment however, ordinary citizens and non-governmental organizations are also supposed to contribute to the portal in future.
According to Keti Khutsishvili, the Executive Director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, a financial supporter of the opendata portal, public control over governmental spending is still an acute problem in countries with developed democracy including Great Britain [where a public funding misappropriation scandal took place recently] and Georgia is no exception: all remember how Control Chamber of Georgia disclosed an outrageous violation of the budgetary law this year. The state finances controlling body revealed the fact that in 2009, against the backdrop of the much trumpeted “tightened belt” policy [aimed at cutting down state expenses] Prime Minister of Georgia disbursed bonuses to ministries from the reserve funds of government. These funds are strongly earmarked for unforeseen and indispensible expenses like natural disasters and other emergency cases. 
And creation of a special web page creating an easy access to financial expenses of Georgian government  is supposed to increase accountability and responsibility of the authorities towards citizens.
“This is the information, to which we, as citizens of Georgia, should have access.  We would like to contribute to the transparency of activities of public officials and increase their responsibility and accountability towards the public,” Khutsishvili said during the presentation event on December 16, 2010.
Levan Alapishvili, Head of Planning and Analysis Department of the Control Chamber of Georgia, stressed that public inclusion in the process of budget control is decisive as far as Georgia moves on a program planning of state budget starting next year that obliges government to plan budgetary spending prognosis very precisely and meet this planning without diversion. To this end it is very important to create an access to governmental expenses through web-portal, he said.
In the process of obtaining the information for the portal the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), a non-governmental watchdog and founder of the questioned portal, revealed an interesting trend that sometimes the total amount of bonuses of a public official exceeds or equals to his/her annual salary, Levan Avalishvili, Chairman of Board of IDFI, told Georgian Journal.
According to Davit Narmania, Executive Director of the Institute of Economic and Social Researches of Caucasus, based on the best international practice bonuses may exceed salary rates actually but it must be regulated by a law. The problem is that Georgia lacks a legislative regulation of bonuses and it is left at discretion of ministers personally.
“It was up to the president of Georgia to define the cap of bonus rates, but now this right is transferred to ministers who define bonus amounts to their associates including self [frequently],” Narmania said.
Another trend revealed by IDFI is that Georgian government ignores the financial transparency principles. Only five [ministries of reintegration, agriculture, and foreign affairs as well as the office of the state minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic integration and the office  for Diaspora issues] out of 18 ministries provided with the requested information on salaries and bonus amounts disbursed to public officials in 2009-2010.
The President’s administration along with the remainder ministries [including the ministries of education, internal affairs, finances, energy, ministry of refugees and accommodation] ignored the IDFI request. Prime Minister’s office turned out a little bit more transparent. It sent information on salaries but withheld bonuses. Ministry of defense turned out partially open as well. It sent only total figure of expenses of the ministry in 2008 including total salary expenses [amounting to GEL 343 million approximately] but refused to provide by detailed information on personal salaries and bonuses of the staff under the pretext that the financial information of individuals is sealed as secret. Justice ministry upheld the defense ministry’s standpoint elaborating that personal financial information cannot be disclosed without consent of the questioned one.
Non-governmental watch-dogs including Transparency International Georgia, Association of Young Lawyers of Georgia, IDFI, oppositional political parties and independent experts disagree saying that all financial information connected with the state-budget including salaries and bonuses must be transparent according to Georgian legislation, and Georgian government violates the law. 
“Even budget and expenses of Pentagon are open to publicity and why on earth Georgian defense ministry refuses to disclose salary and bonus amounts?” Vakhtang Khmaladze, former MP and a member of oppositionist political party, asks.
“Only banking accounts of individuals is secret information, all other kind of financial information including incomes, specifically state-budget-based information like salaries and bonuses are subjected to publicity,” Narmania said.

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