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Bill on the self-governance passed with its first reading

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, December 16
The bill on local self-governance reform was passed with its first reading on December 13. The draft has been revised. Mayors in 12 towns will be directly elected, as well as heads of the municipalities throughout Georgia.

According to the current situation, only the Tbilisi Mayor is elected through the direct voting system. Mayors of the other self-governed towns: Kutaisi, Batumi, Poti and Rustavi, are appointed by city councils. Heads of municipalities are also appointed by city councils.

Through the new bill, the direct election of mayors will be held in the following towns: Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Rustavi, Poti, Zugdidi, Batumi, Telavi, Mtskheta, Gori, Akhaltsikhe, and Ambrolauri. Before it was revised, the initial bill envisaged the direct election of mayors in eighteen towns, including Tbilisi. According to the bill, provincial governors would remain appointed by the central government.

The bill reads that City Council (Sakrebulo) will be able to launch procedures for the impeachment of the mayor/head of municipality if 20% of the voters in the respective municipality or town express the wish. Two-thirds majority of the Sakrebulo will be required to vote out the mayor or municipality head.

The initial bill also envisaged the introduction of elected Borough Councils on a neighborhood level in the capital city, as well as the formation of public councils in villages. However, these proposals were removed in the revised bill. The Ministry of Infrastructure claims that the government will discuss the issue until 2015.

Instead, special consultative councils will be created by directly elected heads (gamgebeli) of those municipalities, which make up the respective region, as well as chairs of Sakrebulos and their deputies (in total each municipality will have three representatives in the consultative councils).

The councils’ obligations will be to prepare various projects to be implemented in the municipalities, discussing projects proposed by the central government and to provide recommendations on economic issues to the governor.

For the transitional period, the bill offers to elect local self-governance bodies, including mayors and heads of municipalities, for a three-year term instead of four.

The proposed bill does not address taxes and the electoral system. They will be discussed in the future.

“Self-governance means empowering people and those who were afraid of giving power to the people were always a deterrent for these reforming steps,” said Head of the Parliament Davit Usupashvili.

Member of the parliamentary minority United National Movement (UNM), Akaki Minashvili, states that the draft initiated by the government is too obscure and will cause additional budgetary expenses.

Fellow UNM MP Giorgi Vashadze believes that the governor’s institute should not be in the self-governments’ code, as the governor is appointed by the central government. He also says that city councils should not be able to dismiss the directly elected mayors and municipality heads.

45 NGOs negatively assessed the changes made in the initial draft.

“We believe that the proposed model does not fully reflect the pre-election pledge by Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream coalition, as well as the principles declared in the government’s March 1, 2013 local self-governance reform strategy,” the statement reads.

However, they still supported the draft as they believe it will be “the first, principle and irreversible step on the path of establishing genuine local self-governance in the country.”