Dozens of civil society organizations criticized the ruling Georgian Dream coalition for watering down initial draft of local self-governance reform, but said that they keep their support behind the proposal as revised draft still remains an important step on the reform path.
“We believe that proposed model does not fully reflect pre-election pledge by Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream coalition, as well as principles declared in government’s March 1, 2013 local self-governance reform strategy,” reads the statement signed by 45 non-governmental organizations, which, among others, also includes those with long-time experience of working on self-governance issues and some of them are those involved in drafting of the original bill.
“Despite of that, we, the part of the civil society, have anyway supported it, because we believe that it will be the first, principle and irreversible step on the path of establishing genuine local self-governance in the country,” it says.
One of the changes that were introduced in the bill since it was presented is revising principle based on which towns are assigned “self-governed” status – towns with this status will be able to directly elect mayors (now direct election of mayor is only in capital city Tbilisi). This change of criteria will result in reduction of number of those towns which have to become “self-governed” from initially planned eighteen to twelve.
In other changes, the government and the parliamentary majority plan to drop initiative of introducing Borough Councils on neighborhood level in the capital city, as well the idea of public councils on the level of villages.
According to the bill provincial governors will remain appointed by the central government. The initial draft envisaged introduction of councils on the regional level, formed by representatives of those municipal councils (Sakrebulos) which make up respective regions; governors, according to initial draft, should have been accountable not only before the government, but also before these councils.
Some small non-parliamentary opposition parties were criticizing the bill, claiming that these councils on the regional level create elements of federalism fraught with risk of separatism; this concern, which were rejected by authors of the bill, as well as by some commentators and also by opposition UNM party, as irrelevant, was also echoed in a statement of leader of Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, who weighed in debate on December 4.
GD said that to allay these concerns, it was decided to give those regional councils “consultative” role; unlike initial draft, the revised proposal no longer envisages giving these councils a status of legal entity of public law. Among the functions of these councils will be to prepare various projects to be implemented in municipalities; to discuss projects proposed by the central government and providing recommendations on economic issues to a governor. These councils will be composed by directly elected heads (gamgebeli) of those municipalities, which make up respective region, as well as chairpersons of Sakrebulos and their deputies (in total each municipality will have three representatives in these planned consultative councils).
The group of non-governmental organizations suggested in its statement that groundless concerns raised by some non-parliamentary opposition groups were used as a pretext by the ruling coalition to weaken initial bill, which, the statement says, triggers suspicion that there are some “forces” within the central government itself who are not willing to carry out a sweeping reform and want to maintain grip on local level.
Davit Losaberidze of Local Democracy Network Center, one of the signatories of the statement, told parliamentary speaker Davit Usupashvili on December 12 to avoid further weakening of the draft. Speaking during a meeting between Usupashvili and large group of civil society representatives, Losaberidze said that there still were some considerations about possible further weakening of the draft. The meeting was not specifically on self-governance; it was organized to discuss cooperation between the legislative body and the non-governmental organizations.
“I call on the Parliament to learn on mistakes done by previous governments; there were five attempts since 1990s [to reform the local self-governance] and at least now it should be successfully accomplished,” Losaberidze said.