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Government promises to continue discussions over municipality reforms

By Ana Robakidze
Tuesday, December 10
The Chair of the Regional Policy and Self-Government Committee of the Georgian Parliament, Erekle Tripolski and the First Deputy-Chair of the Committee, Gia Zhorzholiani, released a joint statement regarding the planned amendments to the Organic Law on the Code of Local Self-Government and Municipal Reforms. MPs say that it is important to hail the discussion and reach a consensus over the issue.

“We were actively involved in discussions but currently we are unable to participate, as in order to share the highland regional policy we must visit Switzerland. In two days we will be back. We plan meetings with social groups, and non-parliamentary parties. We call upon all concerned groups to provide their opinions and actively participate in the committee hearings and considerations. We are sure that as a result of wide public and parliamentary consideration, we will make the decision to facilitate the development of the country and the establishment of democracy,” the parliament’s official webpage said.

The draft had to be discussed by the parliament on December 6th. However, due to the fact that the new bill became vastly criticized by the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II, the discussion was postponed and the government promised to present an amended draft.

Ilia II said that adopting the proposed bill would cause further disintegration of the state.

“If this law is enforced we will end up with the total disintegration of Georgia. We will never accept this and will do everything against it,” Ilia said during his sermon at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.

The bill proposed by the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure establishes a new decentralized self-government, increasing the number of self-governing cities in Georgia. At the moment only 5 cities hold the status of a self-governing unit. In the case that the new law is adopted by the parliament the same status will be given to around 18 municipalities in total. All self-governing entities will have their own council and some level of financial independence.

The bill introduces a system of direct election of city and town mayors in all entities with the population more than 15,000 people.

Those who oppose the bill fear that the new bill will encourage similar conflicts, like Georgia had in the break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some NGOs operating in Georgia oppose the idea that additional level of independence granted to self-governing entities will harm the country and cause its disintegration.

On December 3, a number of NGOs including: Open Society Georgia, Transparency International Georgia, Human Rights Center and International Society of Fair Elections and Democracy, released an official statement, calling the government to continue with the municipal reforms.

“We call upon the Georgian government and parliament, as the main guarantees of realization of the citizens’ constitutional rights, not to yield before the wave of discrediting of the principles of the self-governance and not to stop the reforms,” says the statement.

On December 9th non-parliamentary opposition parties gathered in the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure to discuss the draft. The parties presented to the ministry their own version of amendments.

The government says current system in the country is “super centralized” and administrative entities do not have enough amount of independence. Therefore, the reform has to be carried out urgently and there is no threat of rose of separatism.

Parliamentary Chairman David Usupashvili commented on the draft law and said that self-government gives people right to solve their own problems and drastic changes shall be introduced in the municipality system.

“The Code is complex; we hear the opinions and the hearings are open. The authors held the meetings in the regions, with various groups to share opinions and I am sure we will make a decision in December,” Usupashvili said, stressing that all three readings may not be enough, but it is the task of the MPs to adopt the new code before the elections. However, the reform will not be shocking changes... It will be gradual.