Parliament returned from summer recess with holding of a bureau session on September 2 in renovated old building of the legislative body in Tbilisi center for the first time in almost two years in a move sought by GD ruling majority to relocate, at least partly, parliament’s activities from Kutaisi in the capital city – holding of committee hearings in Tbilisi and keeping plenary sessions in Kutaisi.
The meeting of the bureau – body uniting senior MPs who decide organizational matters and set Parliament’s weekly agenda, was snubbed by opposition UNM lawmakers, who say that moving part of parliamentary activities from Kutaisi is not line with the constitution.
Georgian Parliament now has two buildings – one is a newly built, USD 200 million worth 40-meter high glass-domed construction in Georgia’s second largest city of Kutaisi, where the legislative body was relocated two years ago, and another one 60-year-old building in the center of Tbilisi, which was housing the legislative body before the new building was built in Kutaisi when Mikheil Saakashvili was the president.
The previous government was intending to privatize the old building of the Parliament on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi; it was emptied and its chambers gutted.
About GEL 22 million was spent over the past two years since the Georgian Dream came into power to fully renovate and equip offices, meeting rooms and chambers of the old building, according to the parliament’s administration.
The main chamber, designed for parliamentary sittings, has also been renovated, but holding of plenary sessions in this chamber is not expected anytime soon as full relocation of the Parliament back to Tbilisi will require constitutional changes, according to parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili.
The constitution says that “location of the Parliament is Kutaisi.” It also says that “temporary change” of parliament’s location for the purpose of holding its “meetings and sessions” can only happen during a state of emergency or martial law. This amendment was passed in 2011 when now opposition UNM was the ruling party.
“Parliament will remain on wheels – tomorrow we may hold bureau session here and day after tomorrow we may gather for plenary session in Kutaisi, so we will continue shuttling back and forth between [Tbilisi and Kutaisi] before changing constitutions, something that is not expected tomorrow or day after tomorrow,” said parliamentary speaker Davit Usupashvili, who hosted journalists for a tour of renovated old building of Parliament on September 1.
Georgian Dream (GD) ruling majority initiated a constitutional amendment to fully relocate Parliament from Kutaisi to Tbilisi in December 2012, but it was never put on vote as GD was failing to attract votes of 100 MPs, which at the time was required for endorsing a constitutional change.
Amending of the constitution became even harder, requiring three-fourths majority (113 votes), after the new constitution went into force in November, 2013. No constitutional change will be possible without backing of lawmakers from the UNM opposition party.
UNM parliamentary minority group remains strongly in favor of keeping Kutaisi as the only location of the Parliament, saying that even the partial relocation to Tbilisi would be in conflict with the constitution.
UNM lawmakers arrived in the old building of Parliament in Tbilisi, but they refused to attend session of the parliamentary bureau, which was held on September 2.
This is not the first time when bureau session was held in Tbilisi since the relocation of Parliament to Kutaisi. Bureau sessions, as well as some activities related to parliament’s work, were occasionally held in the parliamentary office located in Tbilisi’s Public Service Hall.
UNM lawmaker, Giorgi Gabashvili, said on September 2 that partly relocating parliament’s activities from Kutaisi on the regular bases is violation of the constitution.
“We are not boycotting parliamentary work, we will continue our parliamentary activities but it will happen where the Georgian Parliament is constitutionally located… in Kutaisi,” MP Gabashvili told Maestro TV. “This meeting [of bureau] now and other meetings that will be held here [in Tbilisi] will be informal gatherings of parliamentary majority group.”
Chief of parliament’s administration, Zurab Marakvelidze, said that operation of two building will not lead to increase of budgetary expenditures allocated for Parliament either this year or in 2015.
Parliament will hold its first sitting of the autumn session in Kutaisi on September 3.