Georgia has seen political battle waged before with roses and rallies, tent cities and tear gas. Will it now see battle done instead with a pen?
A new decree grants the Ministry of Justice the right to “edit” legislation after it becomes law, a development legal advocates believe could put even more power in the hands of Georgia’s already dominant executive branch.
The first casualty was a “this” that was allegedly removed from the official version of a legal amendment that restricts funding for political parties.
In the version with the “this,” the amendment forced parties to return any unspent donations from businesses within three days of the amendment’s (“this law’s”) passage. Funds not returned could be claimed by the state.
Seeing the “this” and thinking they had just days to unload millions in unspent donations, allies of billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili started spending “hastily” to beat the three-day deadline, said Davit Usupashvili, the co-leader of the Ivanishvili-allied Republican Party
Via his businesses and partners, Ivanishvili had donated a reported 4.1 million lari (about $2.46 million) to parties associated with his Georgian Dream organization.
But then, in the version of the amendment published in Matsne December 29, the government’s official ledger, the “this” disappeared. That meant that the spend-off had been in vain.
Usupashvili charged that “a crime has been committed,” and urged the prosecutor’s office to look into the disappearance of the wayward demonstrative pronoun.
No investigation is planned, however, since the Ministry of Justice, which oversees the prosecutor’s office, believes the claims are “groundless.”
The government maintains that parliamentarians were given an oral notice of the demonstrative pronoun's removal; no MPs, so far, have expressed concern about the change.
Iosava said that any tweaks that might be made in future are just a matter of copy-editing, in keeping with the December 29 decree.
“[I]n some instances there may be cases of orthographic, punctuation or numeration related mistakes… “ she wrote in an email to EurasiaNet.org. “If those misspellings are so obvious, that by editing them the essence of the [regulations or decrees] will not be modified, then Matsne has the right to eliminate the error.”
The confusion over the amendment, noted Nazi Janezashvili, the executive director of the legal advocacy group Article 42 of the Constitution, underscores the “danger” of the ministry’s new powers.
“There is a danger, in my opinion, that the content of the laws could be changed because of this new amendment,” she said.
Other Georgian NGOs have expressed similar concerns. Regardless of the fate of the contested “this,” the justice ministry’s new task is far from easy: in a language with no capital letters, punctuation can play a potent role in Georgian.
In a word of warning for the ministry’s would-be editors, Janezashvili said that even changing commas and periods can “change the content of the law.”
“[T]he executive body should not have such a big possibility [or the] right to make amendments in the law... I think it will be easier to manipulate the meanings of the laws, generally. I don’t think it is a positive amendment….”
[Article 42 of the Constitution receives financial support from the Open Society Georgia Foundation and the Open Society Institute-Budapest, part of the Soros Foundations network. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society Institute-New York, a separate part of that network.]