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Will Georgia Join “Utrecht Protocol”?

By Levan Khutsishvili
Monday, July 2
On June 29, 2018, the chairman of the Parliamentary Regional Policy and Self-Government Committee – Zaza Gabunia declared that Georgian Government continues the legislative process for strengthening the local self-government. Besides the reform that has been already done, all Parliamentary Committees supported Georgia’s accession to a “Utrecht Protocol”.

"Georgia is more closely linked to European experience, including self-governance issues and new constitutional guarantees for self-governments is the assertion of it. We have initiated and almost all Parliamentary stages has been passed by the additional document of the European Charter – so called “Utrecht Protocol, which has been fully supported by all Parliamentary Committees, and this document will be sent to the government for further procedures. This is a very important message in both practical and valuable perspectives. This means that Georgia fully shares those values, which are concentrated in this document and which brings together the European countries. We have established permanent institutional dialogue format between the central government and self-governments and now it is a very good platform and a possibility, where the Prime Minister of Georgia, Chairman of Parliament, Parliamentarians, Ministers, Governors, Mayors, Chairmen of City Assemblies, representatives of academic and civic spheres meet and discuss the challenges that central and local governments are facing", - said Zaza Gabunia.

In November 2009, additional document - European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority has been created. According to the document:
“1.The States Parties shall secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority.
2. The right to participate in the affairs of a local authority denotes the right to seek to determine or to influence the exercise of a local authority's powers and responsibilities.
3. The law shall provide means of facilitating the exercise of this right. Without discriminating against any person or group, the law may provide particular measures for different circumstances or categories of persons. In accordance with the constitutional and/or international obligations of the party, the law may, in particular, provide for measures specifically limited to voters. “

In case Georgian Government approves of the initiative of the chairman of the Parliamentary Regional Policy and Self-Government Committee and Georgia joins “Utrecht Protocol”, public participation in self-governing processes will be guaranteed by the law.

“Utrecht Protocol” says that in order to ensure the participation of the society, important measures should be taken by the central and local governments. For example, local authorities should be empowered to promote and facilitate exercise of the right to participate. Procedures may include:
1. consultative processes, local referendums and petitions;
2. procedures for access, in accordance with the Party’s constitutional order and international legal obligations, to official documents held by local authorities;
3. measures for meeting the needs of categories of persons who face particular obstacles in participating;
4. mechanisms and procedures for dealing with and responding to complaints and suggestions regarding the functioning of local authorities and local public services; “

Protocol also encourages parties to use information and communication technologies (ICT) for the promotion of the right to participate.

Georgia, according to recommendations of the EU and international organizations, is already implementing the IC technologies in order to enable public participation. Web-pages of municipalities make the information easily accessible. Initiatives and electronic petitions, as well as other interactive methods are implemented, however, the level of participation is still low.

The lack of political will and professional competences in the self-governments is one of the reasons. Another factor is weak municipalities and the lack of financial decentralization, as local governments are mostly depended of the central budget. According to Gabunia, Georgian government aims to create decentralized country with strong, independent municipalities. However, practice shows that if municipality will be absolutely depended on central budget, development of the municipality is hindered.