About two dozen civil society organizations have thrown support behind the government-proposed local self-governance reform plan amid claims by the Georgian Orthodox Church and some non-parliamentary opposition parties that the proposed bill may lead to country’s “disintegration.”
In a joint statement on December 5, twenty three non-governmental organizations, including those with long-time experience of working on local governance issues and some involved in developing the proposed bill, have called on the authorities not to yield to these “attempts of discrediting” the reform plan and not to follow suit of predecessor governments by using “threat of separatism” as a pretext for backing away from the pledge to overhaul existing “incapable” local self-governance system.
“We cannot agree with an opinion that tackling of local needs by citizens independently may inflame separatism and split the country apart. Usually such argument was used by each and every governing political force in Georgia since 1990s for their own interests and as a pretext to tailor the [local self-governance] law to their needs, which eventually led to currently existing completely incapable, ‘façade’ local self-governance, which is useless for the citizens,” the statement reads.
“Although the representatives of the civil society sector have certain remarks on various articles of the [draft] code of local self-governance, we deem any attempt to discredit the reform unacceptable, especially when citizens’ right to exercise self-governance does not come in conflict with Georgia’s national interests and its sovereignty and on the contrary it serves to the purpose of balancing vertical governance and introducing citizen-oriented self-governance.”
“We call on the Georgian government and the Parliament… not to yield to the wave of discrediting of the local self-governance idea and not to suspend the reform process,” reads the statement, which also calls on the government “not to turn away from pre-election pledge” of carry out self-governance reform before the local elections.
Among those, which joined the statement are: Local Democracy Network Center; Civitas Georgica; International Center for Civic Culture; International Society for Free Elections and Democracy; Transparency International Georgia; Open Society Georgia Foundation; Multinational Georgia.
Next local elections, according to existing law, should be held in spring 2014 after expiration of four-year term of sitting local self-governing bodies. Some critics of the proposed bill also say that the time is running out for implementing any fundamental change before the local elections; some also speculate that holding of the local elections might be delayed.
Head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, said on December 4 that the government-proposed draft law on local self-governance reform is a “threat” because it will cause Georgia’s “disintegration” and vowed to prevent the bill from being adopted.
Lawmakers from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority said on December 5, that parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili had a meeting with the Patriarch after the latter’s remarks. Usupashvili, who before Patriarch’s statement on December 4 dismissed claims about the self-government posing threat to the integrity of the country as “complete nonsense”, has not yet commented on his meeting with the Georgian Church leader, which reportedly was also attended by PM Garibashvili.
Davit Narmania, the minister for regional development and infrastructure, whose ministry was in charge of developing the bill on local self-governance reform, said on December 5 that although the bill contained, as he put it, “no substantial threat”, some of its parts were reviewed and the Parliament will start discussing “improved” draft next week; it is not clear what has been modified in the draft.
GD MP Irakli Sesiashvili, who chairs parliamentary committee for defense and security, said on December 5 that “there were differences within the coalition itself over various aspects” of the bill. He said that in overall everyone shares the principle that the local self-governance has to be empowered, but also added without elaborating details: “There are many risks, especially in the country like Georgia; there are whole range of factors, which creates certain risks.”
“We also see these risks and it was also discussed within the coalition too… and our views coincide with those of His Holiness [the Patriarch],” MP Sesiashvili said.
But another lawmaker from the GD parliamentary majority group, Tamar Kordzaia, said on December 4 that she completely disagrees with “groundless” notion that the proposed reform plan will lead to disintegration of the country. “I have not heard any single serious argument” in favor of this claim, she said.
GD MP Zviad Dzidziguri said on December 5: “Blaming this bill for creating threat of separatism is unfair. But if anyone sees any threat in it is always possible to review certain formulations of the bill.”