On 23 July, the head of the State Audit Service (SAS) in Georgia, Levan Bezhashvili, handed in his resignation to parliament after four years in office citing his desire to aid the people of the storm battered region of Kakheti in Eastern Georgia. “I believe that at this time of difficulty it is my obligation to stand […] by [the] residents of Kakheti region and help them in [the] relief efforts… so I have decided to quit this comfortable high post in Tbilisi,” he announced.
Describing his resignation as a “courageous step” on July 25, President Saakashvili appointed Bezhashvili as his personal representative to coordinate the relief efforts in the region. The move, surrounded by rhetoric of self-sacrifice and humility on the part of Bezhashvili, has sparked speculation that the former high-level civil servant, who hails from Kakheti region, will be named as a candidate for the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party in one of the single-mandate constituencies in Kakheti. Before taking his post as the chief of the State Audit Service (formerly the Chamber of Control) in 2008, Beshashvili was the Governor of Kakheti region for five months.
With 83 votes in favour, and only 2 opposed, parliament appointed Lasha Tordia, Member of Parliament for the UNM to a five-year term as the new head of the State Audit Service on July 25. Tordia, who was first elected as a UNM proportional representative list member of parliament in 2008, has been chairperson of the parliamentary committee for human rights since December 2010. A lawyer by training, Tordia worked as such for both the Public Registry Agency and the Association for the Protection of Landowners’ Rights before entering public life.
The State Audit Service is responsible for scrutinising party financing regulations. It has come under heavy criticism in recent months by both local civil society and international observes specifically concerning the various investigations the SAS has launched into the opposition parties in Georgia, particularly the Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Critics have accused the State Audit Service of being biased and pro-government in its activities.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Needs Assessment Mission (OSCE-NAM) report released last month, underlined the increasing public outcry surrounding the activities of the State Audit Service. Though commending the intention to create an agency to ensure greater transparency, oversight and enforcement mechanisms with regard to the financing of political parties and campaigns, the OSCE-NAM report raised concerns about the discretionary authority granted to the SAS through the amendments to the Law on Political Unions of Citizens.
In response to these concerns, Tordia has stated that from now on he will renounce all party activities and conduct his new position in a manner “based on objectivity, independence, fairness and professionalism.” The former UNM Member of Parliament expressed his plans to meet with political parties in order to avoid violations of the new party financing rules with the aim to end the need to impose sanctions and other coercive measures. “Let’s work on a plan,” he said.