Financial allocations for Georgia-based religious communities have become the subject of sharp discussions. Various statements are made on this issue.
Namely, one part of citizens say that transparency of financial turnover of Georgian Patriarchate and any religious group is of crucial importance. Another part, including government officials, assert that the current regulations for allocating financial assignments to the Patriarchate should not be revised and consequently, the existing practice of allocating state budget funds should be maintained.
Funding the Orthodox Church may be appraised from two positions. On the one hand, the issue may be considered from only legal point of view. On the other hand, allocation of finances to the Georgian Church and all other related aspects may be appraised from emotional point of view.
Substantiation of Budget Assignments
When talking about financing Georgian Patriarchate from the state budget, we frequently hear questions about grounds of similar state obligations. Namely, state budget allocations to Georgian Orthodox Church is substantiated by article 11 of the constitutional agreement between Government of Georgia and Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia. The mentioned article reads: “The Government confirms that in the XIX-XX centuries (especially in 1921-90), after loss of independence, both material and moral losses were inflicted to the Church, and assumes the obligation, as an owner of a part of appropriated property, to partly compensate material losses”.
Moreover, It is also important that on January 27, 2014 Government passed a resolution recognizing damages inflicted to religious communities in Soviet Period. The document also reads: “Losses will be remunerated to one religious community acknowledged as an assignee of damaged religious community or union”.
It should be noted that, based on the above-mentioned government resolution, in 2014 the compensation sum for religious communities made up 1 750 000 GEL, in 2015 the figure marked 3 500 000 GEL. In 2014 1.1 million GEL was transmitted to Muslim community, 150 000 GEL- to Hebrew community, 200 000 GEL – to Roman-Catholic community and 300 000 GEL – to Armenian Apostolic Church.
It should be noted that a part of our society believes that funds allocated to Georgian Patriarchate in the above-mentioned form shapes a discriminating environment in the country. There are doubts that financial support in this method misses legal frameworks and is rather of political character. As a result, similar practice may grow state influence on the Georgian Church.
Ar the same time, we should also mention the position of Georgian Patriarchate. Namely, on December 23, 2014 the Holy Synod meeting discussed the mentioned issue and consequently, the Synod members noted: “Information on state budget allocations to Georgian Patriarchate is delivered to the society in incorrect forms, because these assignments are a partly compensation of losses inflicted to the Church; This sum only partly satisfies real needs and is spent on education of future generation and social projects”, the Holy Synod protocol of December 23 reads.
It is worth noting that Georgian Orthodox Church also enjoys various taxation (profits, VAT, property tax) preferences and these preferences are not applied to other religious communities.
It should be also noted that, according to the law on Auditing Service, the Auditing Service is not authorized to audit Georgian Patriarchate. The service is able to carry out auditing activities only by the initiative of Georgian Patriarchate. Consequently, this factor is an additional condition that raises negative questions about transparency of finances of Patriarchate. Therefore, as a main controlling body, that is responsible for purposefulness of state finances, in practice, is deprived of the right to execute main functions. It should be noted that state preferences and the practice of transmitting property free of charge to Georgian Patriarchate has been sued to Constitutional Court.
On February 11, 2017 Constitutional Court of Georgia discussed the case: LEPL Evangelic-Baptist Church of Georgia, LEPL Church of Word of Life of Georgia, LEPL Christ Church, LEPL Gospel Belief Church of Georgia, LEPL TransCaucasian Union of Seventh Day Christian-Adventist Church, LEPL Latin Catholics’ Apostolic Administration of Caucasus, LEPL Georgian Muslims Union and LEPL St Trinity Church against Parliament of Georgia.
Plaintiffs appealed against preferences that frees Georgian Patriarchate from VAT, profits and property taxes, as well as VAT for services, restoration and painting of churches by order of Georgian Patriarchate.
According to plaintiffs, disputable norms give preference to Georgian Patriarchate as compared to other religious organizations. As a result, article 14 of state constitution is violated that promulgates the right for equality. First board of Constitutional Court will discuss the issue of accepting the appeal for essential discussion. The subject of dispute is: constitutional righteousness of subparagraph D of part 1 of article 99 of Tax Code of Georgia, subparagraph F of part 1 of article 168, subparagraph B of part 2, subparagraph E of part 1 of article 206 in relation to article 14 of Georgian constitution.
Concerning the mentioned dispute, legal proceedings are underway at Constitutional Court and at this stage the court has not passed any decision.
Budget Assignments (Transfers)
Article 5 of 2017 State Budget determines state budget priorities and programs. One of the directions calls for allocating state grants for promoting theological education, namely, for growing up young people with Christian values. In various regions of Georgia, Georgian Patriarchate owns more than 70 educational-culture and charity organizations, including in highland regions (theological academies and seminaries, universities, schools, children houses, orphan children boarding schools, adaptation and rehabilitation centers for deaf children, vocational colleges).
Budget allocations for Patriarchate constitute 25 million GEL. This sum is shared in the following way (the sum is represented in GEL): theological education support grant – 14 683 million GEL. LEPL St. Simon Canaanite Theological Education Center – 295 000 GEL; Batumi and Lazeti See Education Center – 1 768 000 GEL; St. Nino Boarding School of Orphan Children – 959 000 GEL; Batumi St. Ekaterine Center – 261 000 GEL; St. Andrew First-called Theological Education Center – 447 000 GEL; St. George Mtatsmindeli rehabilitation center – 230 000 GEL; St. Andrew First-called Georgian University – 2 000 000 GEL; LEPL Tbel Abuseridze University – 2 304 000 GEL; LEPL Rehabilitation and Adaptation Center for Deaf Children – 100 000 GEL; Georgian Patriarchate Television Subsidization – 800 000 GEL; LEPL Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo Education Center – 500 000 GEL; LEPL Poti Education and Culture Center – 653 000 GEL.
Position of Georgian Patriarchate
Georgian Patriarchate has expressed its official position over funding issues. Namely, around the mentioned issue, in 2013 the Patriarchate made an official statement with key moments over Georgian Church funding issues. We introduce extracts from official statements of Georgian Patriarchate.
It is internationally used practice to finance Churches from state budget and naturally, it could not be a crime in Georgia to receive budget allocations, the statement reads.
“In general, it is an usual practice of financing religious communities directly or indirectly (salaries for clergymen, care for living conditions, grants, financial preferences and so on) in democratic countries, including, in EU member countries. At the same time, more finances are issued there for the mentioned purpose and this happens despite western Europe has not suffered from aggressive atheism and Communist Regime.
On October 14, 2002 Georgian Orthodox Church and Government of Georgia concluded a constitutional agreement. According to article 11 of the agreement, the state recognizes the obligation of compensating losses inflicted to Georgian Church in the 19th and 2th centuries, especially under the Communist Regime. And we have explained many times that Patriarchate receives this sum in this form and this is not assistance, as declared by the previous Authorities. This is a partly remuneration of losses; We hope the Authorities will formulate this context in this way. However, we have taken into account the current situation in the country and we have not used these funds for our needs (while incomes of clergymen in rural areas, especially in highland regions are very small and salaries of Georgian Patriarchate employees also range from 180 to 220 GEL). Therefore, we have decided to direct taxpayers’ funds to more important directions – social and educational activities and return this money to the people in this way.
Artificial impression is made as if Church conceals information on administration of 25 million GEL, while interested bodies are able to see all materials on the website of Ministry of Finances. It should be also noted that money is not transmitted in cash to anybody, but is transferred with specific purpose, under preliminary schedule and this process is controlled by the state”, the Georgian Patriarchate’s statement reads.
Author of the article is Andria Gvidiani