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Parliamentary discussions over municipal government bill postponed

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, December 6
Discussions over the municipal reform bill have been temporarily suspended until the bill is rewritten. Statements concerning the issue were made by Georgian Dream members on December 5th.

The decision was preceded by Patriarch Ilia II’s appeal to the government to rewrite the bill. The Patriarch asked the ruling party to listen to all sides before further debate occur.

“If the bill as it currently is comes into law, it will split the country. People should familiarize themselves with the bill, and all risks should be considered.” Ilia II said.

Members of most political parties, as well as civil sector representatives, say that discussions over the bill should continue and Parliament should not speed up the process. Parliamentary discussions over the bill were scheduled to begin on December 6th. Debate has been postponed until December 10th.

The municipal government bill was proposed by the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure. The main aim of the reform is decentralization. The ministry claims that due to the reform, the number of self-governing cities will increase.

Five Georgian cities currently have self-governing status. An additional 13 municipalities will be given self-governing status as part of the reform. Municipal government officials will be elected. Local governments will also become more financially independent.

The code also stipulates the creation of public councils in villages, which will serve to identify needs in those communities and the ways to fulfill those needs.

The ministry claims that that the reform will result in the socio-economic development of cities and villages; local authorities will have closer contact with the population which will increase the level of citizens’ involvement, the quality of public services will improve and public responsibility will increase.

Georgian Dream member Zurab Tkemaladze said that suspension of discussion was mostly due to the Patriarch. He stressed that the government should listen to all sides and that the final version of the draft should be “maximally acceptable” to the public. Fellow Georgian Dream member Irakli Sesiashvili confirmed that the government very carefully listened to the Patriarch’s warning.

Minister of Infrastructure Davit Narmania stressed that the draft “has never included any threats to state integrity.” He said that the bill already reflects many recommendations from government structures and NGOs.

United National Movement (UNM) member Tina Bokuchava believes that due to the current difficult budgetary situation and lack of experience for most municipal governments, the bill carries serious risks. According to Bokuchava, if the municipal government bill comes into law it will exacerbate the country’s budgetary problems.

The Christian-Democratic Movement, Free Democrats, Democratic Movement-United Georgia and non-parliament opposition parties also believe the bill requires more refining and consultations.

Transparency International Georgia has stated that municipal government reform is essential for the country’s development. However, TI Georgia cautions that municipal financial independence carries serious risks and requires further consultation from both sides before the bill comes into law.

“Without deep analysis, the fast adoption of the bill will disrupt government activities.” TI stated, before noting that the organization will give its detailed recommendations to Parliament in the next few days.