14th March 2023
We are deeply concerned about developments in Georgia last week, where the national government has cracked down on thousands of people peacefully protesting a draft law that would curtail the independence of the country’s vibrant civil society. We are thankful to see that the Georgian government has dropped the draft law after widespread condemnation by the Georgian people.
However, we were disappointed to see the Georgian Prime Minister misconstrue the country’s ranking in the Open Budget Survey to justify the law. We want to be clear about what the survey measures and what it does not measure. The Open Budget Survey measures transparency, oversight, and formal public participation in national government budget processes. Georgia’s score means that the government released timely and comprehensive information in their key budget documents. However, this does not mean that Georgia is fully transparent, accountable, and inclusive with its public outside the budget process. Indeed, independent assessments have found worrying indications of increasing high-level corruption. As the government’s disproportionate use of police force against the protesters underscores, there is increasingly less space in Georgia for peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
The purpose of the Open Budget Survey is to provide countries with a roadmap for a more transparent budgetary process that allows for meaningful public engagement and dialogue around government spending and for both the public and formal oversight bodies to ensure public money is being spent toward public interests. It is one of many tools a government can and should use to assess how they are doing and what they can do better to move toward more inclusive, accountable, and democratic fiscal governance practices.
IBP works with independent civil society organizations in over 100 countries to conduct the Open Budget Survey. The credibility and reliability of the survey results are possible because of the existence of independent, expert civil society organizations. Any efforts to limit the capacity of civic actors to act freely and independently constrain IBP’s ability to produce the survey.
We do not condone the Georgian government’s use of the Open Budget Survey ranking to justify a draconian law that curtails independent civil society under the pretext of transparency. The proposed law would have put unnecessary administrative burden on media outlets and nonprofits to register as “foreign agents,” if they receive more than 20 percent of funding from foreign sources and would have allowed for undefined monitoring by the Ministry of Justice with hefty fines for non-compliance.
A robust and independent civil society is necessary to ensure openness and accountability in the public sector and is an essential prerequisite for democratic societies. We urge the Georgian government to listen to its people who aspire for a more democratic future.