Abolishment of Georgian independent investigative body sparks concerns in the West
On December 30, 2021, the Georgian Parliament approved a bill to replace the State Inspector’s Service with a Special Investigation Service and Personal Data Protection Service in March 2022.
Eighty-one MPs supported the amendments proposed by the ruling Georgian Dream party (GD) MPs in its third and final reading in the 150-member legislative body.
The State Inspector’s Service and position will be abolished in March 2022, while two new state agencies – a Special Investigation Service and Personal Data Protection Service- will be established to investigate authorities’ offences and monitor the personal data processing, respectively.
Lawmakers from the ruling GD party put forward a draft of given legislation on December 27, immediately raising the alarm among local key watchdog and opposition groups.
Agency’s head, Londa Toloraia, has speculated the move could be aimed at pushing her from her position, which she was due to hold until 2025. The State Inspector’s Service has been responsible for a number of high-profile investigations since it was created in late 2019 and has in several instances issued highly critical conclusions finding the authorities at fault.
Toloraia later claimed that the speed and timing of the amendments, which were introduced in an expedited manner, were a calculated move to avoid scrutiny.
“The new draft law envisages not reorganising the [State Inspector’s] Service but abolishing it. This is not a reform […] This is a punishment of the Service for its independence, “said Toloria as cited by the OC Media.
The ruling GD party MP Mamuka Mdinaradze explained earlier that the GD proposed splitting the State Inspector’s Service into two agencies because the investigative and personal data protection functions are “not compatible with each other”.
The GD maintains that the proposed changes will strengthen both the country’s investigative and personal data protection mechanisms.
“Thanks to our western partners for supporting Georgia and even for expressing their critical opinions. Strong and independent state institutions represent Georgia’s integration way towards European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Georgian Dream will continue building and developing independent state institutions“, said ruling party MP Rati Ionatamishvili.
On the other hand, many Western representatives voiced their concerns over the new bill. Acting Head of the EU Delegation to Georgia Asuncion Sanchez Ruiz has said that “abolishing” the State Inspector’s Service’ bears high risks’ for the country’s democracy. Ruiz pointed out that the EU took part in the creation of the Inspector’s Service and invested ”substantial financial and human resources in its development”.
“We are, therefore, very disappointed to see these actions and regret the fact that it has not proved possible for EU representatives to engage with the parliament on this matter”, she added.
“[These] steps that weaken democratic institutions, such as the judiciary or independent oversight agencies, damage Georgia’s aspirations for NATO and European Union membership, and undermine the basic freedoms that are the foundation of Georgian culture and society,” the US Embassy said in reaction to the bill.
Facing criticism from the opposition, civil society, international partners, the Public Defender, and Toloraia herself, the Georgian Dream partially backed down on December 29 and agreed to allow the staff of the Service to be transferred to to-be established agencies.