Joint statement of NGOs regarding the restriction on the public expression of opinions by public servants

3 Aug, 2017

We want to respond to the statement of the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze made on July 26, in the Parliament of Georgia, during the discussion of the President’s motivated remarks on the “Local Self-Government Code”, expressed in reference to the Parliamentary Secretary of President of Georgia, Ana Dolidze regarding the restriction on the public expression of opinions by public servants.

First of all, we would like to emphasize the legal inaccuracy in the statement of the Chairman of the Parliament. In particular, according to the new Law of Georgia on Public Service, which came into force on July 1, 2017, Law of Georgia on Public Service does not apply to the parliamentary secretaries of the President. Consequently, persons employed at this position are not considered as public servants. However, such a mistake poses much less threat to public service than the statement of the Chairman of the Parliament, which may result in self-restriction on freedom of expression of public servants’ opinion, including with respect to political officials. The problem of political influence on public service is generally known. The government has also realized this challenge and reflected it in the concept of the Public Service Reform in 2014 as one of the most important challenges in public service. Political influence and pressure are one of the major hindering factors for strengthening motivation and independence of public servants and there are lots of such examples in the recent history of Georgia.

The Chairman of the Parliament noted in his statement that the public servant “shall not speak about politicians”. First of all, there is no record in any legislative act restricting the public servant from talking about the politicians. In addition, the Chairman of the Parliament noted that the code of ethics is violated by the public servants while talking about politicians, which is the total misconception about the code of ethics. The code of ethics serves the purpose of responsible, accountable and effective fulfillment of public servants’ obligations and protection of non-politicians against the criticism from public servants. Besides, the public servant is also a person who chooses a politician and has the right to express his/her own opinion about him/her.

In the light of this, the statement of the Chairman of the Parliament may be perceived as a prohibition of criticizing the government. This idea may also be strengthened by the fact that government officials talk about the separation of public service and politics only when the public servant expresses opinion unacceptable to them. Such statements not only call into question the political independence of the public service, but politicize the public service even more. It should also be considered that such statements made in regard to public servants may be particularly harmful during the pre-election period.

We want to emphasize that the Constitution of Georgia and the new Law on Public Service protect the right of public servants to have their own political opinion, which does not exclude the obligation of the public servant to be guided by the principles of public interest and political impartiality while exercising its own authority.

1. Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association;

2. Open Society Georgia Foundation;

3. Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI);

4. Article 42 of the Constitution;

5. Management Systems Development Center;

6.  Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia;

7.  Center for Regional Development;

8.  International Center for Civil Culture;

9.  Georgian Media Club;

10. Human Rights Center