As it is known, in December 2017, the Parliament of Georgia approved the completely unfounded initiative of the Government of Georgia to merge the Ministry for Protection of Environment and Natural Resources with the Ministry of Agriculture and transfer certain functions concerning the use of natural resources to the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.
In February 2018, it became known that internal restructuring is currently planned within the integrated Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture (MoEPA). In particular, the Ministry intends to delegate decision-making power with respect to projects having significant impacts on the environment and human health (e.g. energy, transportation, agriculture, mining, metallurgical, chemical production and other projects) to the National Environmental Agency (NEA) – a legal entity of public law (LEPL) under MoEPA.
The MoEPA fails to substantiate the planned restructuring as well as to consider significant threats related to the proposed changes. Namely:
1. The Ministry does not see a problem with bounding commercial interests of the NEA (provision of consultancy services) and the public administration functions of the Ministry (environmental permitting) within one institution – the NEA.
The Ministry fails to acknowledge obvious incompatibility and risks of corruption caused by such merger.
2. According to the Ministry, it is planned not only to transfer the Department for Environmental Assessment (the department responsible for reviewing impact assessment reports of the proposed projects and drafting the permitting decisions to be adopted by the Minister) to the NEA but also transfer of specialists working in other units of the Ministry.
Green Alternative believes that this process will inevitably result in weakening of the units responsible for different directions of environmental protection in the newly merged Ministry and, ultimately, diminishing its environmental functions.
3. As reported by the Ministry, the planned restructuring is due to the lack of human resources to fully implement new commitments as envisaged by the Environmental Assessment Code (part of the provisions of the Code entered into force on 1 January 2018 and another part will be enacted progressively); lack of staff with proper qualification in the Department for Environmental Assessment.
To address this situation, the Ministry consider neither hiring qualified staff and/or more personnel for the Department, nor increasing the qualification of the employees currently working at the department; involvement of external expertise that is a widely accepted practice worldwide (including, Georgia) is not thought either.
4. As an additional argument to justify the need for the planned changes, the Ministry refers to the absence of a common information database within the Ministry. The Ministry argues that: “…existing servers and geo-information data is fragmented and scattered within the individual structural units [of the ministry], and this hampers the effective working process… As of today, the NEA has the most developed and diverse database of environmental information within the system; access to this database is restricted for various structural units of the Ministry, because it was developed under projects supported by the international donors, whose policies often do not allow the use of information widely”.
Green Alternative believes that the weakness (or absence) of information exchange between the entities within the Ministry is highly problematic, in general; however, this is not an argument that can justify the planned changes. If we follow the absurd logic of the Ministry, the problem of information exchange will be solved if the Ministry did not have any structural unit (agency, division or department) and the whole ministry would be placed in one building.
We also note that during the meeting held at the Ministry on 27 February, 2018, the leadership of the Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture failed to specify donors/projects that prohibit dissemination of information about the state of the environment.
5. Another absurd reason for the planned restructuring brought up by the Ministry is the lack of human resources to periodically post notices in the regions of Georgia (the Environmental Assessment Code requires the Ministry to hold public consultation meetings with the project-affected communities and to post notices in public areas to inform communities on planned meetings).
At the meeting held at the Ministry on February 27, 2018, it became obvious that this is not a valid argument either; it turned out that the Ministry is capable to disseminate the information (to post the notices) effectively, without restructuring.
Green Alternative believes that the restructuring of the MoEPA, as it is planned now, will further weaken the national authority responsible for environmental protection and will also provide a fertile ground for corrupt deals. Groundlessness of the changes planned, on the one hand, raise doubts that the restructuring might serve to unhealthy and hidden interests of the public officials; while on the other hand, demonstrate the willingness to suppress the difficulties resulted from the wrong decision taken by the end of 2017 to merge the ministries.
See the draft law on restructuring the MoEPA (in Georgian): http://bit.ly/2uyd4W0