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Signing of the CSO Financial Transparency Declaration

On September 9, EWMI ACCESS and CiDA hosted a public signing of the CSO Transparency Declaration, committing Georgian CSOs to publish their income sources and budgets as well as information regarding their projects. At the signing ceremony CiDA presented an online platform (www.cso.ge) where CSOs will be able to publish information about their projects and funding sources in a user-friendly format. 18 CSOs (Tbilisi-based and regional organizations) already uploaded this information to the new web-platform and signed the declaration.

Although many active CSOs have already been publishing information on their projects and budgets, the new platform provides consolidated data of all CSOs who joined the initiative in one space and allows users to get a more comprehensive picture about CSO work in Georgia. 

The recent attempts from the government and certain social groups to discredit CSOs, increasing number of newly emerged CSOs with unknown and suspicious sources of funding, as well as insufficient knowledge of and credibility of CSO work in Georgian public pushed some of the leading CSOs to establish common standards for promoting  financial transparency in the sector and increasing public access to information about their work and funding. This initiative will help to better inform citizens, policy-makers, and other stakeholders about the industry’s work, as well as establish a culture of greater transparency in the CSO sector. The new platform will also put additional pressure on opaque CSOs to reveal their funding sources or explain the reasons for remaining closed.

All interested organizations are welcome to join the initiative. 

CSO Fair

On September 9, at Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel, beside the CSO Financial Transparency Declaration signing ceremony, the CSO Exhibition/Fair took place, where up to 60 leading national and regional CSOs presented their projects, distributed information materials and identified partnerships with interested parties. The event served to publicize CSO activities for wider audiences. The event was supported by EWMI ACCESS. 

General Assembly of the Regional Civil Society Network (R-CSN)

On September 8, CiDA with support from EWMI ACCESS organized the general annual assembly of the Regional Civil Society Network (R-CSN) – the largest CSO network in Georgia, uniting 64 regional CSOs. EWMI facilitated the establishment of the Network in December, 2012 to increase efficiency of the regional organizations in their advocacy work.

The General Assembly served to review the past years, work on the 2017 action plan, identify key priorities for strengthening the Network and accept new members (9 new members were admitted to the Network). The participating CSOs also agreed to hold a pre-election advocacy campaign “Citizen Voice in Election Process” in 10 cities of Georgia to bring issues of public concern to the attention of the political parties and election candidates by inviting them to take part in public debates. The network members highlighted 3-5 top problems from each region to be discussed at the advocacy campaign and agreed on the campaign format and timeline. 

Regional Civic Engagement Week – "Citizen Voice in Election Process"

From September 19 to 23, Regional Civil Society Network (R-CSN), Network of Civic Engagement Centers and the Georgian Association of the Regional Broadcasters (GARB) with support from CiDA and EWMI ACCESS held the Civic Campaign – Citizen Voice in Election Process in 10 cities of Georgia. The purpose of the campiagn was to bring priority issues from each region to the attention of the political parties and candidates participating in the upcoming Parliamentary elections. For this purpose 10 open public debates were held in the Centers for Civic Engagement with participation of the political parties and majoritarian candidates, local CSOs, media and interested citizens. The discussions were held in a Q&A format where politicians were invited to answer pre-defined questions prepared by local CSOs and to elaborate on their plans for solving these issues, if elected. Up to 300 people participated in the discussions.

Leading Georgian CSOs Meet with Village Residents in Marneuli Municipality

On September 15th the leading Georgian CSOs together with EWMI ACCESS traveled to the villages of Khikhani and Aghmamedlo in Kvemo Kartli region to meet face-to-face with rural residents and hear about their issues and problems firsthand, to present their activities to the communities and offer consultations/assistance in solving some of local problems that might fall within their competence. Open discussions also aimed at exploring the locals’ understanding of Georgia’s EU integration process and filling the information gaps by detailing the overall benefit that the integration entails.

Representatives of the Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA), Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), Media Development Foundation (MDF), Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), the Levan Mikeladze Foundation, EWMI’s ACCESS and several Marneuli-based CSOs took part in the visit. Meetings were held in an informal setting - on the backyards and village squares, which proved conducive to more open and lively discussions.

Residents of the Khikhani village, who are mainly eco-migrants from Upper Ajara, were particularly happy about the visit, since, as they state, neither local government nor CSOs visit them and show interest toward their problems. It was the first time they had an opportunity to talk about their problems in detail and seek consultations and assistance from professionals.

Among main problems identified in the villages were: registration of residential houses and agricultural land plots; registration of residents of Khikhani village in the voters’ list; deteriorated infrastructure and problems with natural gas and electricity supply; water supply and poor quality of drinking water; transportation problems; access to healthcare services; low engagement of local communities in decision-making process, etc. CSOs provided guidance to communities how and whom to apply for solving certain problems, and also promised assistance in this process. EWMI ACCESS will coordinate follow-up activities.

Open community meetings, part of ACCESS’s civic engagement efforts, strive to create a discussion platform between the CSOs and their constituents and to increase public trust towards CSOs. These meetings enable citizens to learn more about CSOs and freely engage with CSO leaders who, otherwise, are often only seen in formal settings. Similar meetings were held in remote villages of Upper Ajara last year and in Guria this year. As a result of joint advocacy efforts, the CSOs managed to solve some of local problems for Upper Ajara population.

Election Comics-Tents in Samtskhe-Javakheti

EWMI-ACCESS grantee, the Tbilisi-based CSO Analytical Center for Inter-ethnic Consultation and Cooperation (ACICC) launched innovative project aimed at informing population of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region about the upcoming parliamentary elections and encourage their participation in the elections. The organization together with 16 selected youth from Samtskhe-Javakheti region prepared bilingual (Georgia-Armenian) comics on elections, conveying easy-to-understand information about elections in general and calling on the society to go for voting. In September ACICC and its volunteers organized outdoor fairs “Comics Tents” in Adigeni, Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki where interested citizens could get information about elections through information materials, conversations with project staff and mock elections that took place in the tents. Similar fair will be organized in Akhaltsikhe on October 1-2.

Political Debates – “Elections 2016 – Security Sector Reform”

On 16 September EWMI ACCESS organized a Policy Forum which was dedicated to the first event of the recently founded CSO Coalition for Euro-Atlantic Georgia: a debate among the key political parties competing in the October 8 Parliamentary Election about their election programs on defense and security sector reform.

The aim of the event was to raise awareness in the political elite about security sector reform needs in Georgia, and discuss the specific visions of the political parties concerning the ways of approximation of Georgia’s defense and security sector with NATO standards; namely, strengthening democratic checks and balances within the law-enforcement bodies, further transformation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service, and enhancing modernization of the Georgian Armed Forces.

Parties made presentations about the following topics:  

–   Whether NATO integration is a priority;
–   Should the defense budget increase, decrease or remain the same?
–   What accountability and oversight mechanisms, if any, they plan to introduce to the State Security Agency (SSA) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), if they’re elected?
–   Do they support the institutional separation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and the State Security Agency (SSA) ?
–   Do they support a creation of a separate parliamentary committee on intelligence and counter-intelligence?
–  Which agency should be responsible for development, implementation and control over national security policy – the National Security Council (NSC) under the President or the State Security and Crisis Management Council (SSCMC) under the Prime Minister?
–  Will they change and, if yes, how the Law of Georgia on Planning and Coordination of National Security Policy?

After the presentations the Q&A session followed, where party leaders were asked specific questions from the audience. 

Representatives of the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia, United National Movement, Free Democrats, Paata Burchuladze – State for People, and the Georgian Labor Party participated in the debates.

The Election Media Centers attract wider audiences on election-related activities in 10 regions of Georgia

The Election Media Centers located in Centers for Civic Engagement across 10 regions of Georgia play an active role in disseminating critical election-related information in Georgia’s regions. Since the official launch on July 26, media centers have hosted and organized 282 election-related events, involving up to 6700 participants. Local and national media covered these events 259 times.

Election Media Centers are supported by USAID’s Advancing CSO Capacities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (ACCESS) project, implemented by East-West Management Institute. The Media Centers offer citizens, journalists, civic groups, authorities, and election subjects a neutral space for organizing public events aimed at increasing citizens’ knowledge of and participation in the electoral process. in particular, the Media Centers provide space for media briefings and pre-election debates between majoritarian candidates and political parties; discussions on recent developments in the electoral process; trainings on election procedures to various target groups; information and coordination meetings between political parties and various stakeholders; focus-group discussions on public attitudes towards the upcoming parliamentary elections, etc. Some of the events are organized by the centers themselves. The Centers also support CSO initiatives aimed at bringing citizens’ needs and concerns to the attention of political parties and candidates.

The most active users of the election media centers were political parties and independent candidates (organizing 36% of the events) and local CSOs (27.3% of events). The Centers for Civic Engagement organized 18% of the events.

On Election Day, the election media centers will provide a safe, neutral working environment (including high speed internet connectivity) for monitoring organizations, political candidates, local groups, and journalists.

The Media Centers operate until December 31, 2016, Mondays through Saturdays. On Election Day, the Media Centers will open one hour prior to the opening of the polling stations.

Analyzing the State of the Intercity Transportation in Georgia

On September 30th the EWMI ACCESS Grantees – CRRC Georgia and Partnership for Road Safety held a presentation of the preliminary findings of their joint research project – STOP: Safer Transit Options for Passengers.

The study applied analysis of existing laws, public institutions and regulations as well as interviews and focus groups with drivers of intercity minibuses ("Marshutka"), their passengers and administrations of minibus stations to identify the challenges that exist in the sector since its excessive deregulation and liberalization in 2005-2006. Researchers presented evidence of increased safety issues related to the scrapping of licenses, technical checks on vehicles and pre-departure checks on drivers as well as lack of monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

Only passenger buses making trips within cities or across the state borders are subject to licensing while minibuses bound to the western or eastern cities from 23 stations in Tbilisi are left without any control. Bus stations face unfair competition from smaller stations and unregistered passenger vehicles that lower the overall travel quality and safety; existing law does not provide sufficient legal mandate for public institutions to perform oversight effectively. According to statistics, 20% of all road accidents with a death toll of 602 last year fall upon intercity minibuses.

The findings and recommendations of the two CSOs were shared by the civil servants of the Ministry of Economy, Land Transport Agency and the representatives of bus station companies, trade unions and professional associations. The parties agreed to create a working group to draft and advocate for specific legislative changes.

Currently CRRC-Georgia is conducting a randomized control trial to test the safety impact of using monitors on minibus rides. CRRC-Georgia and Partnership for Road Safety are expected to finalize their research and produce more specific recommendations in February 2017.

Policy Forum – Perspectives for Transforming the Labor Inspection Mechanism

On 22 September, 2016, ACCESS grantee – Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) - held a presentation and a round-table discussion on its preliminary research findings on the effectiveness of the Labor Inspection Department. 

Using desk research, field studies, strategic litigation and requests of public information, EMC researchers found that the newly created Labor Inspection Department is not effective. According to EMC the Inspection’s limited powers and sole focus on inspecting only labor safety conditions at the workplace (undermining the labor rights protection issues) cannot respond to the frequent violations of labor rights among workers in companies and industrial zones. In the first nine months of 2016 (January-September), 25 persons have died at workplace, which is a persistent trend.

EMC’s call for introducing a more effective labor inspection mechanism was shared by the Public Defender’s Office, Georgian Trade Unions’ Confederation, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and government officials. Representative of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs informed the audience about the Government’s intention to introduce legislative changes in 2017 that will make labor inspection mandatory for companies. Currently  the labor Inspection Department has no authority to order mandatory inspections of organizations they suspect of being in violation of established standards; Inspections are voluntary and only done in case of consent from the companies.

As of today, 254 companies have already voluntarily participated in the government’s pilot monitoring program but inspection results have not been shared with anyone but the companies, a fact that EMC also criticized. EMC representatives request the findings of the labor inspections be open to public.

EMC will publish its final research findings and policy recommendations in December, 2016. The research is funded by EWMI ACCESS.

Informative web-portal for Georgian Farmers

Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) launched a special social media platform (https://georgianfarmers.wordpress.com) and a Facebook Page for Georgian farmers and small processing enterprises consolidating practical information about EU standards and directives in agricultural sector (food safety, veterinary, sanitary and phytosanitary, certification and others). The platform features information on all relevant legislative changes, instructions and new developments, and allows users to submit questions and receive answer. In order to convey information in an easy-to-understand way and reach wider audiences, EPRC prepares infographics as well. 

The social media platform is part of the EPRC’s project aimed at helping Georgian farmers and small processing enterprises in the regions to comply with the DCFTA requirements, thus increasing compatibility of the Georgian products on the EU market. The Project is funded by EWMI ACCESS.

ACCESS is a five-year, $5.5 million USD civil society development initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by EWMI. The U.S. Agency for International Development administers U.S. foreign assistance programs providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.