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Tbilisi Budget Row Grows into Battle for Capital City's Municipal Govt
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 1 Feb.'14 / 13:18

Budget dispute between Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo) and mayor’s office intensified on January 31 amid calls from Sakrebulo’s GD leadership to form a new executive local government in the capital city.

Tbilisi Sakrebulo chairman, Irakli Shikhiashvili, a former UNM member who is now with GD coalition, made approval of capital city’s 2014 budget conditional to forming of a new government; executive branch of Tbilisi municipality now remains under the control of UNM opposition party.

Tbilisi Sakrebulo, where UNM lost majority last summer, voted down Tbilisi City Hall proposed draft 2014 budget with 18-21 vote and 3 abstentions in late December. GD now holds a narrow majority in 46-member Tbilisi Sakrebulo at the expense of those members who switched sides from UNM.
 
If the budget is not approved before March 11, the central government will have the right with the approval from the Parliament to sack Sakrebulo and local government in Tbilisi and impose its direct control over the city, including through appointing mayor for 45 days; after that interim period elections should be held to elect new Sakrebulo.

GD, as well as some other members of Sakrebulo who are not UNM representatives, voted against Tbilisi City Hall proposed draft budget, claiming that the draft was not transparent enough and spending was tailored on UNM’s political needs. Sakrebulo has no authority to sack executive branch of Tbilisi municipality.

Irakli Shikhiashvili, chairman of the Tbilisi Sakrebulo, said on January 31 that new executive government of the capital city should be formed in order to secure transparent spending of capital’s budget, which sets expenses at GEL 785 million.

“I call on our opponents to form the new government in agreement with multi-party Sakrebulo in order not to give anyone any reason to think that political forces are using budget for their political purposes,” Shikhiashvili said.
 
Sevdia Ugrekhelidze, an acting mayor of Tbilisi, said local government members in Tbilisi are ready to quit, but only after Sakrebulo approves the budget and after those members of Sakrebulo who were previously UNM members will also quit their Sakrebulo posts, including chairman Shikhiashvili.

Sevdia Ugrekhelidze serves as an acting mayor since Gigi Ugulava was suspended from office by the court upon prosecution’s request in December after he was charged with misspending of GEL 48.18 million of public funds – allegation denied by Ugulava as politically motivated. Co-rapporteurs on Georgia from the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) expressed concern that the directly elected mayor was suspended without having been convicted of the charges brought against him.

Sakrebulo chairman, Irakli Shikhiashvili, dismissed Tbilisi City Hall’s response to his proposal to form new government as “delirium”. He said that Gigi Ugulava, who is charged with misspending of up to GEL 50 million, is actually still in charge of the Tbilisi City Hall and “giving 800 million budget to these people represents threat for Tbilisites.”

“If they [Tbilisi City Hall leadership] are not prudent to take appropriate decisions, they will leave and so do we,” Shikhiashvili said in an obvious reference to the provision of the law which envisages imposing direct control of central government if Sakrebulo fails to approve the budget before March 11.

Sakrebulo is scheduled to hold a session to discuss draft 2014 budget for February 12.

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