- Incumbent mayor rejects watchdog’s report;
- "I’m doing all I can to ensure fair elections"
Gigi Ugulava, an incumbent mayor, said he would “make a formal announcement about my candidacy” for mayoral race in May 30 local elections “in the coming weeks.”
Deadline for formal nomination of mayoral candidates expires on April 30.
The ruling party has not yet nominated its candidate. Although Ugulava has always been regarded as unchallenged candidate of the ruling party, delay in making a formal nomination has recently triggered rumors that the ruling elite could be considering other options as well.
Ugulava made the announcement through a lengthy English-language statement released on April 12.
The statement was made in response to a report by Transparency International-Georgia on use of administrative resources ahead of the local elections. The report notes “an unprecedented increase” in the funding of local self-government bodies, including of the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office ahead of the polls.
“I welcome the scrutiny from this group and others. But it is important that discussions of these issues be based on accurate facts,” Ugulava says.
In the statement Ugulava says that to get full benefits of first-ever direct election of Tbilisi mayor, people “need to have strong confidence that the election is conducted in a way that is free and fair.”
“I am personally committed as Tbilisi’s mayor to doing everything possible to ensure this campaign and election set new standards for openness, transparency, and public confidence,” he says.
The statement includes the list of measures, which Ugulava says, the authorities have undertaken as part of President Saakashvili’s pledge to secure transparency and level playing field ahead of the elections, including rule of electing Central Election Commission and launching of new political programming on public broadcaster’s Second Channel.
“Despite these and other steps, some observers – including a recent report by Transparency International (TI) Georgia – have criticized the way my city administration is doing its work and carrying out certain programs, and suggested our actions have electoral motives,” Ugulava says. “Unfortunately, TI’s report contains factual errors and shows a misunderstanding of our budget process.”
Then the statement addresses some of the allegations laid out in the TI-Georgia report, in particular the one which says that number of the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office employees increased by 410, while GEL 5.5 million was added to the salary fund, suggesting that state money could be used to employ people, who would be engaged in the ruling party’s election campaign.
Ugulava, however, says that those 410 persons were not new employees, as they previously worked in various capacities for the municipal services, or were hired as temporary contracted personnel before becoming staff members as a result of restructuring process.
“Due to a change in law, many contract employees who have worked for the city in the past are now classified as staff [members]. TI erroneously classifies these individuals as new hires,” Ugulava’s statement reads.
He also rejected any suggestion that increase of monthly pensions by GEL 10 for only those pensioners who are registered in Tbilisi was a violation of law. TI-Georgia report says that the move was against the law as pension policy is not part of the self-government powers and in addition it was also discriminatory towards other pensioners living outside Tbilisi.
Ugulava also says that spending was fully in line with the law, which stipulates that any city spending in an election year should be approved during the previous year by the City Council. “We have done that,” he says, adding that social programs were approved by the Tbilisi City Council during budget deliberations in 2009. Tbilisi City Council approved the budget in late December.
He also claimed that TI-Georgia report contained implications that that it was somehow improper for a mayor to take care of the needs of his people or to carry out any popular initiative, just because it is an election year.
“Should we suspend pensions, stop bus service, cancel garbage pickup, and shut down the kindergartens whenever there is an election approaching, just because those efforts are popular? That would be a very odd notion of democracy,” he says.
“The mayoral campaign period began this month, and I will make a formal announcement about my candidacy in the coming weeks. Right now, my focus is simply on doing all I can to make Tbilisi a better city… I am also doing all I can to ensure the election in May is free and fair. I see no contradiction between the two,” the statement reads.