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NGOs against reducing self-governing cities

By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, May 19
A total of 21 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are protesting against a governmental initiative to abolish the status for seven self-governing cities and reduce the number of the municipalities.

The third sector held press conferences in five cities of the country, including Tbilisi. They addressed the Regional Policy and Self-Government Committee in Parliament and the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure to hold public discussions over the issue before making a final decision.

They say that the government, without any consultations with the civil sector and City Councils, has sent a request to 14 municipalities of the country, with the request to start the process of unification of municipalities.

Among these 14 municipalities, seven are self-governing cities (Zugdidi, Ozurgeti, Gori, Telavi, Akhaltsikhe, Mtskheta and Ambrolauri), which will lose their status and be transformed into municipalities.

In total, the number of municipalities will be halved as a result of the unification process.

Moreover, the number of self-governing cities will be reduced from twelve to five. This means that during the local elections, mayors will only be elected in Tbilisi, Batumi, Rustavi, Kutaisi and Poti. The other cities will be left without a mayor.

As a result of the planned changes, there will be five self-governing cities and seven municipalities in the country.

The NGOs say this process will mean “returning to the Soviet era, inclined towards a centralized form of governance”.

The civil sector addressed the President with the request to appoint the date of the local elections as soon as possible, saying this is the only step to delay the process until 2022.

Aleko Tskitishvili, head of the Human Rights Center NGO says that the initiative will deprive society of the right to self-govern, which was “obtained after hard work and struggles”.

Expert Levan Alapishvili says that there are many shortcomings in the self-governing system, but the initiative of the government will bring no positive changes and will just make the situation even worse.

“The government should work on the elimination of systematic shortcomings, and the abolition of the municipalities will not improve the situation,” he said.

The ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party says that the Local Self-Government Code, which was activated in 2014 and increased the number of self-governing cities from five to twelve, needs to be revised.

The majority also believes that by reducing the number of the self-governing cities and municipalities, they will reduce expenses from the state budget.