ISFED – Signs of politically motivated discrimination of Ia Kerzaia in inspection of Zugdidi School #6
On March 26, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) presented a special report about inspection carried out by the Inspection Service of the Internal Auditing Department of the Ministry of Education at Public School #6 of Zugdidi during the pre-election period of the 2018 presidential runoff.
Based on examination and analysis of circumstances of the case, ISFED finds that the Ministry’s inspection at Zugdidi Public School #6 contains elements of potential discrimination on political motive. The expedited process of review of the application of an individual citizen and immediately follow up by an inspection, the form of an inspection, its findings and subsequent recommendations create suspicions that the principal of Zugdidi Public School #6 was subjected to a politically motivated discrimination and selective approach.
In its report ISFED underlines ambiguous criteria provided by legal acts that regulate inspection, ambiguous grounds of initiating the inspection, the suspiciously short period of time in which the decision was made, and procedural violations in the process of inspection. Additionally, ISFED notes that evaluations provided in the inspection report are exaggerated while recommendations fail to provide solutions in response to the actual challenges that the school faces.
ISFED highlights that in 2018 the Ministry carried out a total of 7 inspections, out of which 6 were carried out during the period between the first and the second rounds of the presidential election in November. From those six, three targeted schools in Samegrelo Region. Furthermore, on November 8, applications about 3 different schools were filed with the Ministry at the same time, including about Zugdidi Public School #6. On all three applications the Ministry made decisions to carry out inspections the same day, on November 8. Given that the Ministry had not made a single decision to initiate an inspection since February 2018, it is difficult to understand how decisions to inspect three different schools at once were made in one day. This is a very short period of time for examining such applications and for the Minister to make the decisions.
In addition to the suspicious timeframe, the grounds for initiating the inspection at Zugdidi Public School #6 are ambiguous. There is a reasonable doubt that the individual under name and address used to file the application against Zugdidi School #6 does not exist. If the Ministry accepted and instituted administrative proceedings about an application that fell short of the requirements of the law, such action constitutes official negligence, while on the other hand, it is a criminal offence if an applicant was using false identity and forged signature on an application. If the Ministry instituted administrative proceedings and conducted inspection at the school based on an anonymous application, it violated the law and the imperative requirements of the General Administrative Code and the Regulation of the Internal Auditing Department of the Ministry, which calls legitimacy of the inspection into question.
Analysis of irregularities identified by the inspection, letters sent by Ia Kerzaia to relevant agencies about these irregularities before the inspection began and explanatory notes submitted by her to the Ministry after the inspection make it clear that from the irregularities identified: about the sanitary/hygienic problems the principal was requesting assistance before the inspection began; with regard to disposal of property, elimination of irregularities related to lease agreements had already been initiated; with regard to cooperation with the audit firm that had an expired license, this problem was not unique to Zugdidi school #6 but rather, many schools in the region were using services of the same audit firm, including in January 2019 after the inspection was carried out at Zugdidi Public School #6. In addition, the inspection report does not take into account the statement provided by the principal about preventive measures taken by the school to eliminate the violations identified the inspection process and future steps.
Regarding the inspection report, ISFED notes that the tone of the document and the recommendations provided in it seek to dramatize the irregularities found at the school. After examining circumstances of the case it becomes clear that the report of the Inspection Service of the Internal Auditing Department of the Ministry and subsequent recommendations are not focused on improving performance of a structural unit of the Ministry, contrary to requirements of contemporary international audit standards. To eliminate irregularities, with its recommendations internal auditing should provide assistance to relevant officials for introducing effective mechanisms to strengthen control, which was not done in the case in question. Instead, according to the inspection report, based on irregularities identified, the Board of Trustees should have considered removal of the principal from office. The recommendation does not aim to eliminate causes of the irregularities but instead it aims to punish the school and its principal.
ISFED also studied the legal acts that regulate inspection process at public schools. It turned out that the Internal Auditing Regulation does not provide the basic standards, methodologies and timeframe that the Internal Auditing Department should use in the inspection process. Based on the analysis it becomes clear that inspection of public schools is based on ambiguous criteria, which leaves an ample room for discretion for individuals that carry out the inspection.
In addition to the illegal inspection at Zugdidi school #6, politically motivated pressure possibly exerted by the head of Zugdidi Resource Center on acting principal of public school #7 Natela Khorguani and her dismissal from office, intimidation against teachers of Kortskheli village Public School in Zugdidi Municipality, as well as the process of collection of so-called “lists of supporters” detected by ISFED observer at one of the educational institutions in Zugdidi Municipality clearly suggest prevalence of systematic political intimidation and harassment at educational institutions of Zugdidi Munucipality during the pre-election period of the first and the second rounds of the presidential election.
Based on the analysis of these circumstances, ISFED urges:
The Office of the General Prosecutor:
- To initiate investigation into the possible abuse of official power on discriminatory motive by Head of Zugdidi Educational Resource Center Kakha Partsvania during the pre-election period in 2018;
- Investigate the fact of inspection at Zugdidi public school #6 and possible malfeasance by high-level officials of the Ministry, in a timely and comprehensive manner.
The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports:
- Prepare inspection standards and methodology for the Internal Auditing Department to use in the process of examination of possible violations in public schools. This is necessary for carrying out a legitimate and objective inspection, as well as to increase trust toward decisions made as a result of inspections, and quality of the decisions;
- Refrain from carrying out inspection at schools during pre-election periods, except when there is an urgent need to do so.
The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) prepared the report about inspection at Zugdidi public school #6 based on the analysis of public information requested from the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, applicable legal base and materials of inspection proceedings, as well as based on interviews with Zugdidi public school #6 employees. Notably, the Ministry provided the public information requested by ISFED in violation of the deadline prescribed by the legislation, and ISFED was able to receive some of the information from the Ministry only after it filed in court.
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