Georgia’s score of 56 points in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is unchanged from 2019, when it dropped by two points compared with 2018. Moreover, Georgia has not seen significant improvement in the ranking since 2012, when CPI scores became comparable year to year. In a country once celebrated as a reformer, anti-corruption efforts have stagnated in nearly a decade.
Undue influence and state capture
On the 2019 CPI, we highlighted state capture and undue influence over key institutions as the main challenges to political integrity in Georgia. This year’s results suggest that they have not been addressed.
What’s more, the 2020 National Integrity System Assessment found that Georgia’s political system is characterised by an extremely high degree of concentration of power, as a single political group wields disproportionate control over all key public institutions. The same dominant group also often aspires to unduly influence non-state actors, including the media and the private sector. The most vocal civil society groups continue to come under attack through government-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
Recent analysis by Transparency International Georgia provides further evidence of these persisting problems, as well as an illustration of the ways in which this influence is used to shape the political landscape, preserve the status quo and prevent investigations against the ruling elite’s members and allies.
Government accountability undermined by concentrated power
Undue partisan influence over the law enforcement agencies has rendered them effectively incapable of investigating cases of possible high-level corruption. This has undermined the public’s trust in the law enforcement system: According to a 2020 survey, only 29 per cent of Georgians believe that cases of high-level corruption are investigated properly in Georgia, while 47 per cent think that they are not.
Further, state capture has meant that the legislature and the judiciary do not properly exercise their oversight roles vis-a-vis the executive branch. Parliamentary oversight was especially limited during the state of emergency enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Absent the political will to implement significant reforms, this situation is self-perpetuating as the ruling party’s privileged access to public resources and its apparent willingness to trade government contracts for campaign donations undermine political competition and make it unlikely that a more pluralistic governance structure will emerge.
This state of affairs has repeatedly led to street protests over the last two years. Political polarisation has increased, culminating in the opposition’s boycotting the new parliament over allegations of fraud during the 31 October 2020 parliamentary election.
For Georgia to regain its lost anti-corruption momentum, a number of decisive steps are needed.
The government should start by supporting the proposal to establish an independent, multi-role anti-corruption agency that would fill the current void in terms of the enforcement of the country’s anti-corruption laws. Appropriate safeguards against undue influence over the agency’s work would enable it to effectively investigate allegations of high-level corruption.
At the same time, sustained long-term progress in the fight against corruption is only possible within a sound democratic system of governance. The shortcomings of the 2020 elections and the resulting lack of diverse political representation in the legislature are likely to further weaken the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight.
The ruling party will have to demonstrate the will to facilitate the emergence of a more pluralistic and competitive environment by creating a level playing field for political parties, facilitating participatory decision-making and refraining from attacking those that hold power to account.