Bill offering overhaul of the local self-governance system, developed by the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure, has been submitted to the Parliament for consideration.
Introducing direct election of mayors of at least seventeen towns, as well as heads of all municipalities from next year is one of the key proposals of the bill. Provincial governors will remain appointed by the central government, according to the bill.
For a transitional period, the 71-page bill offers to elect local self-governance bodies, including mayors, for a three-year term instead of four. Next local elections are scheduled for spring, 2014 and following elections, according to the bill, have to be held in 2017.
Now there are five “self-governing cities” – Tbilisi; Kutaisi; Batumi; Rustavi and Poti. Mayors of these cities, except of Tbilisi, are elected by their respective local city councils (Sakrebulos). Currently Tbilisi is the only city in Georgia where mayor is elected directly by voters.
Towns with at least 15,000 residents automatically become eligible for the status of “self-governing city”, according to draft.
Voters in each of these towns will be able to directly elect mayors.
That means that apart of the five cities, which already are “self-governing” cities, this status, under the proposed bill, will also be granted to at least threaten more towns: Zugdidi, Gori, Samtredia, Khashuri, Senaki, Zestaponi, Telavi, Marneuli, Ozurgeti, Kobuleti, Akhaltsikhe, Tskaltubo and Kaspi.
But the bill also makes it possible to grant this status to those towns which fall short of 15,000 in number of residents, but have “a potential of urban attractiveness”.
It will be up to the Parliament to decide whether to grant this status or not to towns with less than 15,000 residents.
Among the towns, which have less than 15,000 residents but can potentially become eligible to this status are Tkibuli, Borjomi, Chiatura, Sagarejo, Gardabani, Khoni and Gurjaani.
Local Self-Governance Bodies
The Council (or Assembly), known in Georgian as Sakrebulo, will remain a representative body of local self-governance on the municipality level.
Sakrebulo is elected for a four-year term and each Sakrebulo will have from 15 to 30 seats depending on the size of municipality (Tbilisi is an exception where Sakrebulo will still have 50 members).
Executive body is led by Gamgebeli (head of the municipality) and a mayor in case of self-governing town.
Like mayors in self-governing towns, gamgebelis will also be directly elected by voters of respective municipalities for a three-year term in 2014 local elections and then for four year term starting from 2017 local elections.
Sakrebulo, according to the bill, can launch procedures for impeaching directly elected mayor/gamgebeli upon the initiative of at least half of its members or upon a request of at least 20% of voters in a respective municipality. Two-thirds majority of Sakrebulo members is required to vote out mayor or gamgebeli.
Mayor/gamgebeli, according to the bill, will have the right to veto legal acts adopted by Sakrebulo, but executive body will have no right to veto municipality’s budget.
In the capital city Tbilisi, which will have 50-member Sakrebulo as it is now, new elected bodies, Borough Councils, will be introduced on neighborhood level. Sakrebulo member can also be elected in Borough Council. Borders of neighborhoods in the capital city have yet to be defined.
Increase in number of self-governing towns may also lead to redefining of administrative borders of some municipalities. The number of municipalities, which now stands at 69, may also increase up to 120.
There are nine territorial administrative units (mkhare) or regions in Georgia: Guria; Imereti; Kakheti; Mtskheta-Mtianeti; Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti; Samegrelo and Zemo Svaneti; Samtskhe-Javakheti; Kvemo Kartli and Shida Kartli (administratively breakaway South Ossetia is part of Shida Kartli region). Each of the nine regions has a governor appointed by the central government
Adjara under its status of autonomous republic has higher level of self-governance than other regions; breakaway Abkhazia, under the Georgian legislation, is also an autonomous republic.
Existing regional division will actually be maintained under the proposed bill and their governors will also remain appointed by the central government.
These regions are referred in the bill as “regional unions of municipalities”.
The bill introduces new structure at this regional level, which is called the Council of Union.
These Councils will be composed by representatives from those municipality Sakrebulos, which make up the respective region. Each municipality Sakrebulo can have from at least three to maximum nine members in the Council depending on number of voters in municipalities.
According to the bill, the regional governor is accountable on the one hand before the central government, which appoints governors, and on the other hand before the Council as well.
The Council will have the right to request the central government to sack governor, but it will remain up to the central government to take the final decision.
It will be up to the Council to give endorsement to various infrastructure and other projects to be implemented in the region. The Council will also have the right to propose changes in already planned projects; if governor rejects the proposal, disputed case will be referred to the central government, which will have the final say.
The proposed bill does not address budgetary and financial issues of the local self-governance bodies. According to Finance Minister, Nodar Khaduri, his ministry has been instructed to elaborate a scheme which will regulate distribution of taxes. One of the possible options, according to the finance minister, is to keep revenues collected from property tax in local budgets as it is now, but on top of that to add to local budgets part of revenues from income tax.
According to estimations by the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure, the new self-governance system, even though it will lead to increase in number of municipalities, it will not cause increase in number of people employed in the local-self governing bodies. But the new system, according to authors of the bill, will require additional of about GEL 40 million next year for construction or renovation, as well as for equipment of administrative buildings of self-governance bodies in some newly created self-governing entities.