Today, on September 8, the Parliament is discussing approval of the new composition of government. On September 2, 2019, the former prime minister Mamuka Bakhtadze left the post, which led to proposal of a new cabinet of ministers and new government program. Throughout the rule of “Georgian Dream”, it is the fifth occasion when prime minister changed. The tradition and form of changing prime-ministers and cabinet is the most evident example of the fundamental and major problem of Georgian Dream governance, namely extremely low public accountability, weak inner-party democracy, and lack of orientation on real changes and reforms.

Similar to previous cases, the current process of government change also illustrates that people get appointed and leave political positions without any democratic process, necessary public explanations and consultations. The previous activities of people appointed as ministers have not been at any stage related to public political arena, and the public is not informed about their public activities, values and political standpoints. Precisely, political appearance of such managers with extremely low political consciousness and experience presupposes failures of a political system, their low social sensitivity and in the end, public distrust and nihilism towards a political system.

The renewed composition of cabinet and the candidacy of prime minister along with the government program has already been presented to the Georgian Parliament, the latter practically containing the same content as the one presented by the previous prime minister Mamuka Bakhtadze. Similarity between programs indicate that the new government team had not actually worked on updating the policies, priorities and approaches to issues and the reason for changing the composition of the government has not in fact been the goal of achieving a real social and political change. Apart from that, the program does not address the deep crisis of the recent months, relating to democratic functioning of state institutions and political system. In these circumstances, government program carries a more technical meaning and does not serve the rational political discussion and parliamentary control in that process.

In addition, the tendency of promoting people with the most problematic and controversial reputation in the government is evident. Nomination of Giorgi Gakharia as a prime minister is particularly problematic in the context of 20-21 events, namely serious and large-scale human rights abuses during the dispersal of antioccupation protests, which was not followed by appropriate legal reaction or political recognition by the state. Appointment of Giorgi Gakharia as a prime minister following the public criticism and protest directed to him as the Minister of the Interior Affairs, is the blatant disregard of public dissatisfaction and opinion. Political comeback of Irakli Gharibashvili as a member of cabinet and promotion of Vakhtang Gomelauri – incumbent head of a particularly problematic government office is also extremely concerning.

The manifest interest and intention of the ruling political group to strengthen law enforcement ministers during the election year is indicating risks of politically abusing police and law enforcement bodies for maintaining power.

It is unfortunate, that the ruling party in the government is relying on repressive/police bodies during its last year of authority and that the main discussion topics align with security, public order and militarization issues. Strengthening such rhetoric and approaches in the already heavily polarized and nihilistic political environment, will further harm democratic processes and will suppress development of policies oriented at balancing of power and representation and protection of real needs, interests and concerns of social groups.

The content and structure of government program presented to the parliament are also an evident indication of problematic priorities of the cabinet, namely, the government program completely disregards democratic reforms and does not separately address human rights issues, rather in a totally unclear manner links it to security issues, which points to the utmost problematic approach of the government.

The issues of social and collective rights and the need to transform employment and social policies are essentially insignificant in the government program. Social policies are mainly aimed at alleviating/compensating for the condition of vulnerable groups, rather than their inclusion, development, empowerment and equal access to public goods. The program completely ignores environmental policy issues and the direction on supporting democratization and public forums.

The high level of poverty in the country, extremely vast inequality between social groups, significant difference in welfare state of urban and rural areas must urge the state to revise its economic policy and devise a fairer and a more effective distribution and welfare policy, however, the government program does not either mention these challenges or contain realistic views on their resolution.

Below we present the assessment and criticisms of separate parts of government program on democracy and human rights

  1. Governance and democratic reforms

The government program disregards the issues of fundamental reform of governance system and democratic consolidation. Democratic reforms are mainly considered as part of fulfilling obligations undertaken vis-à-vis international partners rather than an indispensable priority for building and developing a Georgian state.

The ideas on governance systems in the program largely focuses on electronization of governance, names effectiveness and flexibility of the cabinet as the ultimate goal. In these circumstances, the idea of democratic governance is completely disregarded. The passages in the government program can be more understood to mean technocratization of governance system.

It has to be underlined, that in contrast to previous government program, the present one does not discuss the reforms of judiciary and the prosecution bodies, as well as the state security services. It is natural, that the institutions, that do not form part of the cabinet, are not subject to the same parliamentary process of approval. However, obviously, the government team needs to be informing the public about its standpoint and approaches towards functioning and future of the major democratic institutions – courts, prosecutor’s office and the security sector. Today, the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office represent one of the least trusted state bodies and their operation still shows manifest signs of political instrumentalization, among others, in the context of the criminal cases initiated/revived in the recent months. The influential interest group in the judicial system, which enjoys loyalty of the political government, extreme corporatism and consistent suppression of an independent opinion within the system, judicial appointments, promotions and other unsubstantiated career decisions made by the High Council of Justice is an evident indicator of serious crisis in the judiciary. Clearly, the head of government, as well as the ministers need to have clear political position about these institutions, whose problems of independence has a direct effect on the crisis of democracy in the country.

  1. Reforms in the Ministry of Internal Affairs

It is important, that part of the government program pertaining to police bodies, contains a part on reforming the criminal police, as one of the most problematic police unit. Apart from that, the idea of reforming investigative bodies to increase independence and quality of work of the investigative bodies is still present, representing one of the critical challenges in the criminal justice system.

It is important that the role of the human rights department under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as the new mechanism of public order officers are maintained and further strengthened.

The events of 20-21 June showed that on the hand it is crucial to start reforming special tasks department and special task force, as well as creation of a unit of professional supervision of the police force, which shall improve quality of managing police units and be a guarantee of political neutrality.

  1. public order, security and criminal justice

The program broadly discusses security and public order issues, among others, it is noted that analysis-based criminal policy and inevitability of punishment is important for maintaining safe environment in the country. Despite the fact that the program mentions analysis-based police activity, components of security and public order practically do not point to the importance of changing environment, resolving reasons and factors motivating and provoking crime, as well as to the value of engaging other institutions other than police bodies, representing a general shortcoming of public order and security approaches in Georgia. Security is essentially linked to effectiveness of state repressive power and the role and function of other state bodies in preventing crime and safeguarding public security is ignored.

It is unfortunate that in the country where the third of the prison population is sentenced for drug crimes based in accordance with inhuman legislation, the government program mentions drug policy only in the context of organized crime. The program only notes that the Ministry of Internal Affairs will continue to actively fight drug crimes, however, does not comment on any of the previous political promises, among others on the public promise made by Giorgi Gakharia in May, 2018, that drug policy reform issues would be resolved in a timely manner.

  1. Protection of Human Rights

The subsection on human rights protection in the government program does not fully reflect those challenges facing the country at the moment. The program contains a broad overview in spheres of security and military service, however the plans undertaken by the government in the direction of human rights is very broad, abstract and ambiguous. The content does not show that the plan is based on experience, research and democratic consultations or that it envisages solutions aimed at development and real changes. The lack of emphasis on prioritization of human rights is symptomatic considering the aggressive, authoritative and polarizing rhetoric of the new cabinet.

The program completely omits important rights for protection of freedoms and functioning of democracy such as freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, media freedoms. In the context of the recent events, problems of freedom of expression and assembly have become more actual and had significant political implications, however, the government program completely disregards them.

The program does not express the government readiness to fully comply with high standards of freedom of expression and constitutional guarantees. In the current circumstances when representatives of government have made several public statements, for instance, regarding the need for additional regulation of defamation, for criminalization of insults to religious feelings, apart from that, considering that several activists have become subject to unjustified prosecution because of their expression, such statements in the government program were particularly significant for protection of pluralism and democracy.

Problems related to freedom of assembly is also actual in our political system. After the transition of the government, despite clear statements made by ruling political party that repressive measures will not be used against participants of assemblies, a number of serious cases of inhuman treatment and violation of freedom of assembly against protesters were observed. Among those, particular attention has to be drawn to special operations conducted in Basiani and Café Gallery clubs on May 12, 2018 and related protests, spontaneous resistance to mass police operation in Pankisi on April 21, 2019 and events related to dispersal of antioccupation protest on June 20-21. Also, weak political will and lack of effort to guarantee security to participants of assemblies against homophobia and transphobia has to be noted separately. 20-21 June events of the current year, which was the case of the most severe, intensive and large-scale use of police force by state showed that devising mechanisms of management, monitoring and responding to mass protests in accordance with human rights standards is still a significant challenge for the law enforcement. However, government program does not address the present criticism either from a political or legal perspective.

Protection of media freedoms and pluralism is particularly problematic. In the context of polarized media, events taking place in TV company Rustavi 2, unsubstantiated impeachment of general director of Adjara Public Broadcaster, and criminal prosecution against owners of influential critical media outlets, it was essential that the program stressed the principle of non-interference in media. Moreover, in the pre-election period, media freedom has a decisive role for democratic processes, however, the program does not even describe that as a goal to be pursued.

The program does not even point to issues of religious freedoms despite a number of systemic challenges, among others, discriminatory legislation (which among others was confirmed by decisions of the constitutional court), non-democratic and non-secular practices of financing religious organizations, absence of restitution policy on confiscated property during Soviet rule, discriminatory practices in relation to construction of places of worship, absence of religiously neutral, diverse and equal environment in public schools. It was crucial to underline an unquestioned readiness to protect freedom of religion and equality principles in the context of recent legislative initiatives lowering the standards of religious freedoms (special law on religion, criminalization of insults to religious feelings, burqa ban, exceptional rule for exempting religious leaders belonging to the Georgian Patriarchate from military service, etc.). Such approach is particularly important for building an inclusive and equal state and for creating a fair political and social environment for minority religious groups. However, considering the pre-election context, as well as non-secular approaches and preferential treatment of the Patriarchate by the state, it is symptomatic that the interest of observing religious freedoms, does not fall under the political goals of the government.

  1. Equality Policy and Integration

Action plan underlines the significance of supporting antidiscrimination policies and singles out certain groups, for whose equality guarantees the state will take measures. However, the activities envisaged in the plan are broad and does not permit foreseeing real events and policies considered.

The plan discusses the significance of integrating ethnic minorities, however, does not respond to serious criticism that exists with regard to state policy in this direction. The plan does not sufficiently address such issues as the need to change the security paradigm with the human rights oriented one, the significance of pursuing policies specifically responsive to historic context, local needs and concerns in regions populated by ethnic minorities as well as of supporting political representation and participation of ethnic minorities, the need for improving the extremely low level and low quality education system, strengthening local self-government bodies and starting mechanisms of democratic participation in regions populated by ethnic minorities.

As it was also mentioned above, the plan does not discuss issues of religious freedoms and inclusion of minority religious groups and protection of their rights. Despite numerous criticisms of problematic policies undertaken by the State Agency on Religious Affairs, which is largely focused on control of religious organizations and establishing regulations and practices for restricting enjoyment of religious freedoms, the plan does not say anything about revision and improvement of policies in this direction.

The plan superficially discusses policies to be implemented in the direction of gender equality, which do not cover issues of political participation, social protection and care, reproductive rights and health of women. Despite the fact that women’s political participation was an actual topic in public discussions in the recent period, the plan does not draw appropriate attention to it.

The action plan also ignores the significance of fighting homophobia and does not discuss issues related to freedom of assembly, security, violence, marginalization and social vulnerability of LGBTI people.

It needs to be noted separately, that the action plan does not touch upon the problem of rising radicalized ultraconservative groups and does not discuss the need to, on the one hand, prevent violence and rights violations from these groups and on the other hand, to analyze the causes for appearance of such social groups and to carry out relevant preventive policies.

  1. Occupied Territories and Human Rights Issues

It is important that the plan addresses the issues of territorial integrity and at the same time discusses the approaches to protection of human rights living on the occupied territories and adjacently as well as to reconciliation and restoration of trust between the two sides. However, measures to be undertaken by the state is broad and it does not create expectation of real changes. In the context of events that took place in the recent period, it is crucial that the government makes more effort for social and humanitarian protection of persons and families living across the border line. Apart from that, it is essential that the government makes additional diplomatic effort for advocating extension of the mandate of monitoring by international organizations on the occupied territories.

  1. Labor and Employment Policy

The government program marginally discusses the challenges existing with regard to worker’s rights in Georgia and is limited to the plan of strengthening the work inspection mechanism, and even then, only concretely in relation to safeguarding physical integrity at the workplace. It has to be underlined, that existence and functioning of an effective mechanism for ensuring safe work environment is an important goal, however, the weakness of execution mechanism of the Labor Code, systemic violation of labor rights and unjust and exploitative practices against the employed, particularly, in the rising service sector, violation of rights of association and strike, limited formal use of the important mechanism for resolution of collective labor disputes – mediation mechanism, etc. remain unresolved problems. These challenges are overlooked in the program. Also, the Government program ignores the existence of a quite large informal sector of employment and thus, the labor relations that exist beyond guarantees of the Labor Code, in which, as a rule, vulnerable groups excluded from formal labor market - women and youth - are involved.

The latter challenge has to be a target of an appropriate employment policy, however, the government’s view of state role in employment policy is still extremely problematic. For effective functioning of the labor market, the government intends to get involved mainly through policy of “provision”, meaning that the state’s perception about its central role in the labor market is limited to evaluating demand, so that employment services can ensure that workers are trained appropriately in accordance with the demand. Accordingly, the state uses its resources to satisfy the market demand and due to current structure of the labor market today, this presupposes training of low skilled workers for low paying jobs. It is noteworthy, that as the international practice shows, at the developing stage neither Western nor Asian successful economies were concentrated on the policy of provision and were proactive in creating demand. The fragmented policy centered on creating demand is mainly carried out within the framework of the program “produce in Georgia”, however, it is of critical significance that the said program, which is supposed to have a serious impact on the employment level in the country, is not aligned with the state employment policy, namely with the training programs carried out by the Employment Department. Thus, we end up with the situation, that the state on the one hand financially supports development of certain sectors/fields, and on the other hand, invests in training of workers for completely different sectors.

It is of critical necessity that more focus is placed on transformation of economic policy, which will contribute to transfer of workers from agricultural fields of low productivity to other sectors, will facilitate development of high productivity one and will help decrease informal sector. In this context, employment policy must ensure preparation of work force for new economic fields and smooth transferring of the already employed between sectors. In parallel, it is necessary to work on both active and passive employment, which implies introduction and proper functioning of unemployment insurance and allowance systems. However, unfortunately, as it turns out from the government program, such approach to the topic is not part of the political agenda yet.

  1. Homelessness

Government program practically ignores a serious social problem such as homelessness. It has to be considered, that:

  • According to government program, the Georgian Government will actively implement the Human Rights Action Plan. In this case, it is problematic, that despite declaring fight against homelessness as a strategic goal on a national level, until today the problem of homelessness has not become part of any of the human rights action plans devised by the government.
  • The purpose of the Government program is to implement the law of Georgia on “social work” (particularly in terms of strengthening social workers). It is essential that in this process homeless persons are not overlooked, who as persons facing social risk shall be cared by the state based on the obligations undertaken in this law.
  • The government program discusses “targeted social programs” for easing the material conditions of vulnerable groups. It is essential, that homeless persons are explicitly included in this process.

Generally, it is crucial, that the state undertakes an obligation to progressively, gradually implement a policy directed to elimination of homelessness. It is necessary, that the state defines homelessness, takes measures for determining the scale of homelessness in the country, devises the homelessness elimination strategy and action plan, as well as introduces and implements appropriate support services for fighting against homelessness.

  1. Persons with Disabilities

The government action plan only superficially and partially discusses the obligations of the executive government in relation to realization of the rights of persons with disabilities. The document overlooks important issues, which have been subject of criticism by various actors for years.

5 years have passes since the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, however, until today the state has not fulfilled significant obligations undertaken in the document, which could have substantially improved conditions of persons with disabilities. In the context of such challenges, government program is only limited to general standpoints and does not specifically indicate the will to resolve important problems existing until now such as inexistence of an agency responsible for implementation and coordination of Convention obligations, incompatibility of fundamental legislative acts with the Convention, failure to take effective measures for introducing social model of disability evaluation and for improved production of statistics. Apart from that, the program omits such important topics, as inaccessibility of information resources, insufficient mechanisms for the healthcare and social protection, existence of large psychiatric and boarding care facilities and lack of community services, insufficient resources for education and equal participation in public or political life, existence of stigma against persons with disabilities, which in the end impede realization of rights of persons belonging to this group and continue to exclude them from various spheres of life.

  1. Natural Resources and Protection of Environment

The program does not respond to the criticism existing in relation to state energy policy throughout years. First, it is necessary that the state sees the significance of devising state policy document, strategy and/or action plan regarding energy policy, which would represent a systemic, comprehensive approach to development of natural resources and to relevant standards. Without this, any attempt to use resources is fragmented and is not analyzed in the context of the overall state energetic or other kinds of needs.

The program does not mention complex and actual challenges related to state policy of maximal use of hydro energetic resources. In the framework of the policy, today 117 hydropower plants are being built, important portion of which were initiated and granted construction permits without analysis of appropriate environmental and economic studies. Apart from this, the following problems give further reasons for alarm: the flawed and non-transparent practice of planning hydropower plant constructions and prior agreements with companies, insufficient involvement of persons affected by the project and other interested parties in the decision-making process, inexistence of relevant legislative standards and norms on environmental, energetic and hydro projects, disregard of international practice and application of outdated soviet norms to the issues, non-observance of minimal standards for hydro power plants in exploitation foreseen in permit documents and non-fulfillment of compensation obligations along with inappropriate state reaction to it, alleged interest conflicts in the energy sector and issues of elite corruption.

Government program is also silent on introducing transparency mechanisms for mining sector, on adopting sustainable approaches of obtaining natural resources, increasing the sector’s potential and creating different stages of reprocessing them, so that the state is not dependent on import in this sphere and can encourage a more diversified economic activity related to utilization of natural resources, as well as it can create alternative spaces of production and employment and introduce comprehensive policies in mono industrial cities.