Government Task force issues guidelines amidst tensions following dismissals from the public sector.

Georgian Education Minister Dimitri
Shashkin is blamed for political
victimisation of opposition supporters
ahead of next October’s elections

Georgia’s education system has been gripped by tension over the last weeks amidst continued reports of victimisation of staff members who are supporters of opposition parties, or who have relatives who are involved in opposition party politics.

The issue came to a head when the Minister of Education, Dimitri Shashkin at the end of May, dismissed the Chairman of the National Examinations Centre, Maya Miminoshvili, days after her son attended an opposition rally in Tbilisi. The issue turned into a crisis after more than half of the staff at the National Examinations Centre subsequently resigned in protest just weeks before nation-wide university entry exams.

Shashkin’s official reason for firing Maya Miminoshvili, was “incompatibility” between her and himself in how to continue with the reforms in the education sector, but Miminoshvili, who in the past has been credited with having set up an efficient and corruption-free examination system, claims that her dismissal had a political motivation. Nearly 60 employees at Miminoshvili’s exam center resigned in protest, saying that they backed her up on the reform issue.

Shashkin subsequently appointed the Rector of the Georgian Police Academy as Mimisoshvili’s replacement. The education ministry promised that the upcoming exams will be conducted as usual, and on schedule. Georgia’s Ombudsman has also been asked to investigate the case of Paata Tushurashvili whose employment with the National Forensics Bureau was terminated on 1 May 2012. Paata Tushurashvili had worked since 2009 as the deputy head of the Forensic Chemical and Narcotic Substances Department and subsequently as the head of the same department. In a letter to the Ombudsman Tushurashvili claims that some time before he was told by the head of the National Forensics Bureau that his wife’s political activity was causing a problem. Tushurashvili’s wife is Maia Panjikidze the press officer of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition.

In the meantime the Georgian NGO ISFED has taken up the case of another employee who says that he has been dismissed for political reasons and has referred it to the government’s special task force on free and fair elections. This involves an employee of United Water Supply Company of Georgia. Lasha Shvangiradze has been employed in the company since 2006. He works in Khoni, in Imereti region. On May 29, a document was sent to his branch-office via Skype which said that he was fired.

The date of the document is June 1. The official reason for the dismissal is that his job contract had expired. But according to Shvangiradze, he signed a one year contract with the company starting from the beginning of 2012, which means that there still are several months left. Shvangiradze says his dismissal followed a conversation he had with a board member of Khoni municipality on May 25, which might be the real reason why he was fired. He said he was visited by Darejan Kvateladze, an economic advisor on the municipality board. Their conversation touched on the topic of elections. Shvangiradze told Kvateladze that a change of government is normal in a country, and that it also is normal that if the government changes, professionals remain in their positions.

Kvateladze says that a few days later he was fired. When he asked for an explanation, the head of the regional office told him that it was because of downsizing. His dismissal letter indicated a different reason.

GOVERNMENT TASK FORCE ISSUES GUIDELINES

The Georgian government Task Force empowered to ensure free and fair elections has issued guidelines to government departments following claims of political victimisation of opposition supporters.

A statement from the National Security Council which leads the Task Force said

“The Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IAT F) is conducting a series of meetings with representatives of civil society groups engaged in the electoral

process. At these meetings, civil society representatives have presented several concerns based on monitoring that they have been conducting. One problem

highlighted was that of civil servants being fired from their jobs—which, in some instances, according to these civil society groups, could be based on political motives.

The IATF’s position on this issue is clear: It is unacceptable and illegal to fire public servants due to their political views or those of their family members. Such allegations must be examined. It should be noted, however, that some state agencies are in the process of optimizing their operations (and thus cutting staff), and thus it is not always possible to determine the motivation behind the dismissal of a particular individual.

In light of these considerations—and in order to ensure a free environment for the 2012 parliamentary elections—the IATF aims to avert both justified and unjustified claims of dismissals that could be due to political motivations by state agencies and agencies subordinated to them, as well as by high school principals. As such, the IAT F

recommends that:

In light of the current pre-electoral period, heads of the state agencies and of agencies subordinated to them, as well as high school administrations, should suspend optimization efforts and sanction staff only in cases of disciplinary or other violations.

Source: CEW with civil.ge and other Georgian media