Over a dozen local civil society outfits called on Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili to veto the bill dismantling the State Inspector’s Service, voted by the ruling Georgian Dream party lawmakers in an expedited procedure on December 29-30.
State Inspector’s Service
The State Inspector’s Service, launched in 2019, is an independent agency to monitor personal data protection, and to probe the abuse of power. It does this by controlling activities carried out at the Central Bank for covert investigative activities and electronic communications identification data.
The parliament, led by the Georgian Dream party, voted on a bill to abolish the Service on the 30th of December, with 81 votes in favour and 7 votes against. According to this bill, the independent State Inspector’s Service will be dissolved from March 2022, and State Inspector Londa Toloraia and her deputies will be let go.
The bill comes at a pivotal time, as the State Inspector’s Service has been critical of the government’s treatment of jailed ex-President Saakashvili. The Inspector is researching possible inhuman treatment of Saakashvili, particularly during his forced transfer to the Gldani prison clinic, and it further found the Justice Ministry and the Special Penitentiary Service violating data protection laws by airing several controversial videos of Saakashvili.
The move to abolish the Service has been met with much criticism. A joint letter released on January 5 has been signed by some of the country’s most reputed watchdogs such as Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, the Social Justice Center, and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy. According to the letter, the ruling party, in defiance of heavy criticism from CSOs and partner countries and “without any justification or engagement of relevant actors and the State Inspector herself,” made a decision that is “unconstitutional and overly detrimental to Georgian democracy.”
The State Inspector Toloraia also argued that the lawmakers are simply trying to punish the agency for being “independent, scrupulous, and law-abiding”, and for being critical of other state bodies. She further declared that the move could make politics instable, and endanger all elected officials and civil servants doing their jobs “scrupulously”.
There has also been international critique. The United States sharply criticized the move, saying it undermines government accountability, the independence of judges, and overall faith in the judiciary. The EU and the UN Human Rights Office also declared that abolishing the service poses great risks for Georgian democracy.
President Zurabishvili’s move
The next move will be President Zurabishvili’s, as she can veto the bill. Zurabishvili, elected in 2018 as an independent candidate endorsed by the ruling party, has never used her veto-power to counter a decision by the Parliament before, though on December 27, she did call on the review of the bill to be suspended until all relevant parties had been able to present their views first.
Should President Zurabishvili choose to veto the bill, it will be sent back to the legislative body with her remarks, and Parliament will either have to adopt the remarks, or override the veto with a simple majority of 76 votes. However, as the Georgian Dream party has 84 lawmakers in Parliament, a veto woud likely easily be overruled.