Levan Berdzenishvili About Positive and Negative Sides of Georgian NGOs

Levan Berdzenishvili

Degree: Ph.D. in Linguistic Sciences
Born on: October 23, 1953, Batumi, Georgia
– Entered State Polytechnic Institute of Georgia.
1972 – Moved to Tbilisi State University
1977 – Graduated from the Faculty of Classical Linguistics of the Tbilisi State University. Knows Ancient Greek and Latin Languages

1978 – 1996
– Various positions in the Tbilisi State University
1996 – Established non-governmental organization “International Center for Civil Development”. The center has implemented 20 projects. At presents holds a position of Chairman of Directorate of the Center. Since 1998 is a Director General of the Ilia Chavchavadze National Library of the Parliament of Georgia. Mr. Berdzenishvili has been a member of directorate of the funds “Open Society – Georgia”, “Horizonti”, “Eurasia Foundation”.

Hobbies: Computers, Internet, and travel

Civil Georgia (CG): Mr. Berdzenishvili, how would you evaluate activities of Goegrian non-governmental organizations? Lets start with the positive aspects

Levan Berdzenishvili (LB): One of the biggest advantages of non-governmental organizations is their increased social role today. Decision of the Parliament to compose election commissions from the representatives of the NGOs is a good example for this, even though the decision has been adopted after rather fierce debates. This is an extraordinary case of recognition of the role of the NGOs. The statements that numerous politicians had made during these debates (including ungrounded accusations towards non-governmental organizations) prove existence of certain ‘jealousy’ of the politicians towards the Third Sector and shows allocation of power.

Actually, non-governmental sector is stronger then political parties today in Georgia. Parties are weaker not only institutionally, but also with their international connections, equipment, communication capabilities etc. They also lack ability of speech making, even though this should be their main “weapon”. They also do not publish books and hold press conferences rather seldom.

Another great achievement is that largest parts of non-governmental organizations do not participate in partisan politics. However there are such ‘political’ NGOs as well. For example: 40 non-governmental organizations of Levan Mamaladze (Governor of Kvemo Kartli region) or non-governmental organizations of the Ministry of Health and Social Security, which are being grouped to certain kind of alliances. NGOs and media in our neighbor countries Armenia and Azerbaijan are being divided under political marks. There have been attempts to have the same kind of system in Georgia as well. There have been times, when organizations dedicated to protection of the human rights were actually protected only the rights of certain groups of people and gladly would violate others’ rights if they needed to. Fortunately we managed to avoid such situation.

It also can be said, that often meaning of NGOs is being overestimated. Politicians tend to overvalue capabilities of the non-governmental organization and such tendency often leads even NGOs themselves to mistakes.

Georgia belongs to those countries, were it is very simple to establish a non-capabilities organization. No one had granted us such an opportunity. We have earned such possibility with our own efforts. People who worked or work at non-governmnetal organiztaions have evaluated relevant laws Along with the Minister of Justice (that time) Lado Chanturia’s great personal contribution in adopting these laws, significant role had been played by a NGO called “Young Lawyers Association” and others as well.

It is also great achievment, that there are several organizations, reputaion and name of which are doubtless despite the fact, that political parties have tried to influence their activities. Recent developments proved that it has become necessary for all politicians to have a deep knowledge of non-governmental sector today.

Today we have several leading organiztains. “Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development”, led by Mr. Ghia Nodia is a patriarch organization. “Young Lawyers Association”, “Liberty Institute” that is being engaged in almost all imprtant porcesses in the country, “United Nations Association of Georgia”, “Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights”, “Center of Civil Development” are among such organizations. I would like to mention International Center of Civil Culture as well, which has broad specter of publications.

Non-governmental organizations have established very fruitful cooperation with the Ministry of Justice and Ombudsperson’s Office. Cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Police structures develops harder, however even there several important projects have been implemented.

Rapid increase of the number of non-governmental organiztaions is a positive apsect as well. There are tendencies to create a network of NGOs and determine a leader.

CG: What are main negative aspects of the sector and what are the reasons of these disadvantages in your opinion?

LB: As in each newly started endeavor, we have many negative moments in NGO sector in Georgia. But I do not think that we need to hide this.

First of all, the most significant disadvantage is that numerous projects are being implemented for the purpose to implement the project and actually they are meaningless. Sometimes projects are not being implemented at all and people simply “eat” the money they have been granted. But I think that it is much worser when implementation of the project has no impact.

Existence of double accounting in many organizations is a big disadvantage as well. They usually make one financial report for donors, another one for tax inspections. Sometimes even director and bookkeeper are being allied within the organization.

Many organizations lack transparency in their activities. They do not publish information. There are some kinds of “semi-secret” organizations too, which have their legal address but never exist there. This is rather legal problem. Our legislations demands permanent legal address of the organization, but it is very complicated to keep an office permanently at one place. At the same time, donors hesitate to finance office expenses and salaries. However, NGOs learn to maintain an office, give salaries to their employees and at the same time stay clear before the donors. I do not think that this is a “healthy” ability.

I also would like to mention that organizations often hide infromation from each other. For instance, organizations that cooperate with British donors tend to block access to other Georgian organizations. Sometimes funds have their “favorite” organizations. These are organizations that learned ways of fund rising form these very funds and the funds like to finance only these NGOs. Such practice is not bad after all, but deserves certain criticism from the side of other organizations.

One of the most significant drawbacks is that despite the big number of NGOs in the provinces, they still are very weak. These regional NGOs are being under pressure from governmental structures. There are often cases, when local government structures establish own NGOs as well.

In my opinion, main reason of these drawbacks is that, we never managed to hold a countrywide conference, were all non-governmental organizations would have been introduced to each other.