By Nino Evgenidze and Manana Kochladze, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nino Evgenidze is the executive director of the Economic Policy Research Center. Manana Kochladze is the executive director of Green Alternative, an environmental advocacy group. The views expressed are their own.
Georgians replaced their government through the ballot box for the first time in the country’s history in October. United in their demand for social justice and transparency, Georgians voted against the United National Movement’s closed-door approach to governance, which often led to the abuse of official powers – as epitomized by a recent prisoner abuse scandal.
The new government is prosecuting former officials, and some donors and Western supporters are treating these prosecutions as revenge. But the truth is that for decades, Georgian government positions have been viewed more as an entitlement than as a responsibility. The prosecutions are being spurred by ordinary Georgians who feel that they got no justice under the previous government, and the new government is responding by investigating the alleged wrongdoing. It is essential to see the investigations through, and ensure that no one stands above the law.
During their eight year rule, the UNM prioritized free market reforms over holistic social development, leaving issues like education, decentralization of power, civil service development, and judicial reform on the back burner. In contrast, the newly elected government has reached out to Georgian civil society organizations, and together we are grappling with the social challenges facing our country.
Georgia’s international donors – largely the EU, U.S. and World Bank – have a critical role to play. But so far, the major donors have not altered their assistance programs to fit the new political landscape, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach. For the good of Georgia’s development, these donors need to change their programming in several specific ways.
Donors should view Georgian civil society as partners in identifying problems and solutions rather than as contractors. Too often donors provide ready-made solutions and get locals to do the work. Pre-packaged solutions create a donor-driven environment over which international organizations reign as dictators of goodwill.
In addition to helping to address the controversy over political accountability, international donors should quickly respond to the new government’s requests for advisers and experts. The new government faces vast challenges, from preventing power cuts this winter to establishing an affordable health care system. To succeed, they will need the same level of support and expertise that donors provided to the former government.
It is also crucial for donors to support civil society organizations through institutional grants and endowments. After the Rose Revolution of 2003, international aid went to supporting government reforms but provided few funding opportunities for issue-driven organizations. Consequently, many highly-skilled staff at the country’s nongovernmental organizations left for better paying government positions, which gutted these organizations and left civil society with few resources to attract and train new staff.
Institutional and seed grants from donors would allow existing civil society groups to better support democratic governance and develop new staff. At the same time, establishing endowments would ensure the sustainability of these organizations after international donors leave Georgia. This should be a priority, given that the current $25 million in annual donor funds available to civil society groups is expected to decline sharply in two years, when many of the internationally funded programs are expected to end. International donors should put a fixed amount of their current funding toward the establishment of an endowment that would help these groups to grow and strengthen their contributions to Georgia’s move toward the rule of law.
More generally, donors should lead by example when it comes to transparency. This means publicizing all of their assistance to the government, while also supporting civil society organizations’ efforts to monitor the government’s spending.
Assistance with addressing political accountability is key to ensuring that the abuses of the past administration are not repeated. Donors can play an active role in helping the new government to conduct investigations and trials rooted in the rule of law.
For the broader issue of development, assistance should be effective and appropriate, yet as most development professionals will acknowledge, it often is neither. Donors should listen not just to the new government, but to what Georgians in the street are saying and help strengthen civil society.
The current social and political landscape in Georgia provides international donors with an opportunity to facilitate meaningful, demand-driven results. To catalyze this change, donors must first change with the times.