With local elections less than one year away, the Georgian Parliament will soon start consideration of a new draft law on local self-governance. The document was developed by a special commission that united governmental officials, parliamentarians and representatives from civil society organizations. The draft envisages an administrative-territorial division into regional municipalities throughout the country and the abolishment of the currently operating 1100 self-governance bodies – "Sakrebulo", or Council - in villages, communities and in small towns.
Opponents are protesting this cancellation of lower level self-governance - a move which triggered Davit Losaberidze of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and Tengiz Shergelashvili of the Association of Young Economist of Georgia (AYEG), to quit the commission last summer.
According to the draft, the territory of Georgia will be divided into 65 regional municipalities and 7 cities – the capital Tbilisi, Batumi (Adjara Autonomous Republic), Rustavi, Poti, Kutaisi, capital of South Ossetia Tskhinvali and capital of Abkhazia Sokhumi. Other towns will be united in the regional municipalities.
“With this model we have preserved the current model of a territorial-administrative arrangement to a certain extent; but, at the same time, we have presented some new patterns as well. We were guided by the following principles while developing this model: the implementation of it does not require much money, it is not time consuming and it is simple,” MP Vano Khukhunaishvili, who chairs the commission working over the draft, told Civil Georgia.
Khukhunaishvili stressed that a new model of self-government should be introduced for local elections next year, so “time is very important in this regard.” “It was impossible to introduce an absolutely different model because there was not enough time to implement it,” he added. However, he did not rule out that more reforms of the self-governance system might take place in the future.
But opponents say that it would have been better to change the system once and for ever. “Why should we change the system several times, when we can choose the right way now?” Ana Dolidze of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) says.
“This is not a draft law which envisages the transfer of power to self-governments. This is a means to kill two birds with one stone – on the one hand, the authorities are trying to demonstrate to international organizations and the population that reforms are underway and on the other hand they are trying to preserve the current centralized management,” Ana Dolidze told Civil Georgia.
Davit Losaberidze of CIPDD, in cooperation with other experts, has developed an alternative draft law which envisages self-governance at the level of villages, communities and small towns, but the document was rejected by officials as “too expensive and time-consuming.”
“The election of lower level self-governance bodies is very important in order to keep close links and direct contacts between self-governance bodies and the population,” Davit Losaberidze told Civil Georgia.
He also noted that a division of territory into region municipalities alone might also create political problems. “A region is a large unit and this might be used by political parties - I do not mean only those regions which are populated by a large number of ethnic minority groups – for politicizing self-governance,” Losaberidze said.
Local Self-Governance Bodies
The Sakrebulo (Council) will be a local self-governance body in regional municipalities and in seven cities which will be elected through a proportional, party-list system for a 4-year term, according to the draft law. But the document does not indicate how many seats will be in each Sakrebulo.
The executive body of the local self-governance will be the 'Gamgeoba' (Board), which consists of a Mayor, Deputy Mayors and chairmen of commissions of the Sakrebulo. The Mayor, as well as his deputies, will be elected by the Sakrebulo among its members for a 4-year term as well. The authors of this draft say that a Mayor elected by Sakrebulo will also be the chairman of the Sakrebulo.
This provision has triggered protests by the opposition, which demands the direct elections of Mayors.
“The authorities do not enable the population to elect the head of their municipality through direct elections. This [provision] means that the first person in the executive and legislative bodies of the municipality is one and the same person, who creates, approves and fulfills the budget at the same time, which is absolutely inadmissible,” MP Mamuka Katsitadze, of the opposition New Rights party, told Civil Georgia.
But supporters of the draft downplay these fears by the opposition. “There is not so much power at the local level so there is no danger that someone will misuse it. And there is no need to introduce a concept of classical division of power at the local level,” MP Vano Khukhunaishvili said.
According to the draft law, the executive branch of local self-governance also includes the head of the administration, as well as a self-governance executive. The latter deals with the execution of authorities in the villages and communities, which will be united within the regional municipalities.
Powers of Local Self-Governance Bodies
The authors of this draft law boast that the local self-governance bodies will be in full control of forming and implementing local budgets. “An independent budgetary process and independent budget is one of the major merits of the new self-governance model,” MP Vano Khukhunaishvili said.
But opponents say that the new tax code, which took effect at the beginning of 2005, restricts the financial independence of the regions.
“The sources of income for the local budgets are extremely scarce. Local budgets are filled only from the following sources: taxes on property and on gambling businesses, as well as local dues. However, this is absolutely not enough for the existence of a budget. Hence, local budgets will still remain financially dependent on the state budget,” MP Mamuka Katsitadze said.
According to the draft law, the local self-governance bodies will also be in charge of social-economic development, property management, environmental protection, construction, transport and road infrastructure, accommodation, education, culture and sport, health care, rule of law and law enforcement.
Opponents argue that the draft law fails to clearly divide the competences of the local and central authorities. “The issue of distributing competences, which is rather obscure in the draft, should be made clearer to understand exactly what exclusive rights the local self-government bodies will have and what the competence of the central authorities is,” Davit Losaberidze said.