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Gov’t approves merging of municipalities

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, June 5
The Government of Georgia has accepted the merger of 14 municipalities, seven self-governing cities among them, which is strongly opposed by NGOs and the opposition, saying this will hamper Georgia’s decentralization.

The amendment comes after the current authorities claims in 2014 that the country required more decentralization and more effective local authorities.

With this aim, three years ago they increased the number of self-governing cities from five to twelve.

The opposition and NGOs claim that the change is solely an attempt to save money, and due to fear that the Georgian Dream leadership may lose the elections this autumn in the cities.

Responding to the allegations, Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili stressed that the merging of the municipalities did not mean cuts for local budgets.

The PM stressed that over the last three years, a range of problems have been revealed in 14 municipalities, duplicated functions, less-effective enforcement and other issues.

“Self-government systems will definitely be developed in Georgia, and nothing will stop this process. The speculations we hear [from the NGOs and opposition] as if the self-government reform is being hampered have nothing to do with the real situation,” the PM said.

He stressed that for more decentralization and effective work, which is demanded by the opposition and NGOs, a collective body would be formed in each mayor’s office with deputy mayors and department heads that will prevent the mayor from making 'personal solutions'.

The Prime Minister added that local city councils would have effective levers to carry out control over mayors’ offices.

Kvirikashvili also announced that a territorial body would be established in each regional settlement, which would bring the problems of settlements to the mayor’s office.

For now, there are 79 municipalities in Georgia; of these, 12 are self-governing cities and 67 self-governing communities.

Out of the 14 municipalities which would be merged, seven are the self-governing cities of Zugdidi, Ozurgeti, Gori, Telavi, Akhaltsikhe, Mtskheta and Ambrolauri.

The NGOs have asked the Government to meet over the planned changes to discuss them, but this has yet to take place.