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No public discussions over self-government reform

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, January 10
Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Davit Narmania, said on January 9 that there would be no public discussion over self-government reform.

“We have foreseen suggestions over the document and we presented a refined version. We have conceded much. Now the document will be discussed at the parliament,” Narmania said, noting that the critical assessments voiced concerning the document are politically motivated.

“Our opponents are just trying to gain some benefit through criticism,” Narmania stressed.

Through the reform launched by the Ministry of Infrastructure, 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-third’s 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 though in 2015.

Instead, special consultative councils will be created by directly elected heads 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.

Member of the parliamentary minority Giorgi Tevdoradze states that the reform does not ensure decentralization as the municipalities will not have financial independence. He also states that the governor’s role, which will be appointed by the central government, will also make the reform useless.

Representative of the Local Municipalities’ National Association, Davit Melua, stresses that the reform encourages centralization more than decentralization. Melua emphasizes that governor’s institute should not have been brought in the reform.

“This was the most negative aspect. In this situation, I think that governors should be elected and not directly appointed,” Melua states.

Head of the Civil Culture International Centre, Kote Kandelaki, stated that the reform ensures decentralization step-by-step and the governors will not enjoy some of the exclusive rights. As for the removal of the governor institute, Kandelaki states that the abolishment requires constitutional changes.