One of the campaign pledges of the Georgian Dream (KO) coalition in the run-up to the 2012 parliamentary elections was to split up the country’s hugely powerful Interior Ministry, abolishing some departments and separating the security and intelligence bodies that had been subsumed into the Interior Ministry in 2004.
On July 3, 2015, almost three years after the election victory that brought KO to power, lawmakers passed on the second reading a package of legislative amendments that provide for the creation by August 1 of a new State Security Service with responsibility for counterterrorism, counterintelligence, electronic surveillance, and anticorruption measures.
Announcing the proposed reform to parliament two months ago, Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said it will “provide for the deconcentration of excessive power within [a single ministry] and will have a positive effect on the efficient protection of human rights.”
More Reforms To Come?
Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria subsequently explained that the decoupling of the security and intelligence bodies constitutes just the beginning of a more extensive process of institutional reform within both the Interior Ministry and the security service.
Civil society and human rights groups have nonetheless expressed concern about individual provisions of the draft amendments, as have some lawmakers from the Republican Party and other members of KO. They point to the apparent duplication of some duties, given that in addition to its intelligence-gathering and analytical functions, the Security Service will also be empowered to launch its own investigations and detain suspects, hitherto the preserve of the police.
Those groups had earlier criticized the Georgian authorities’ failure to solicit the input of “independent experts” in drafting the legislative amendments.
They also registered alarm over the retention of the Soviet-era practice whereby the Interior Ministry maintains a network of agents within strategic institutions such as the public broadcaster and the communications regulatory commission.
The Interior Ministry initially argued vehemently against abolishing that function. But in response to criticism from the Republicans, the wording of the amendments was fine-tuned to make the procedure “far more transparent” and in line with international practice, according to Izoria.
Specifically, a government decree will stipulate norms and procedures required to protect security and data at “high-risk” state and private entities, which in turn will conclude a formal contract with the State Security Service.
Some lawmakers still say those changes do not go far enough. Parliamentarians from the former ruling United National Movement voted against the amendments, as did the Free Democrats, who quit Georgian Dream in November 2014. Major revisions of the wording during the third and final reading are not permitted.
The new State Security Service will have a staff of 4,000 and be funded this year from the Interior Ministry budget. Its head, who may not be a member of any political party, will be selected by the prime minister and approved by parliament by a minimum of 76 votes in favor. He will serve a single six-year term.
How the ongoing reform process will impact on the day-to-day duties of Interior Ministry personnel, some of whom are reportedly apprehensive at the implications, is not clear.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, who as then-interior minister reaffirmed in late 2012 KO’s commitment to the proposed division of the Interior Ministry, assured his former subordinates a month ago that the authorities “will not do anything that could weaken the country.”