Government approved on February 21 a concept paper laying out wide-ranging reform proposals on the local self-governance system aimed at, as the document says, empowering local governance and promoting more engagement of locals in decision-making.
According to the reform plan, which was developed by the Ministry for Regional Development and Infrastructure, most aspects of the newly proposed system, which among other issues also envisages making post of town mayors directly elected, will be enforced with the local elections in spring 2014.
There are nine territorial administrative units (mkhare) or regions in Georgia: Guria; Imereti; Kakheti; Mtskheta-Mtianeti; Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti; Samegrelo and Zemo Svaneti; Samtskhe-Javakheti; Kvemo Kartli and Shida Kartli (administratively breakaway South Ossetia is part of Shida Kartli region).
Governors of these regions are now appointed by the President.
Adjara under its status of autonomous republic has higher level of self-governance than other regions; breakaway Abkhazia, under the Georgian legislation, is also an autonomous republic.
Regions (among them Adjara) are divided into municipalities uniting villages and towns. There are now total of 69 municipalities with each having its directly elected local council (Sakrebulo); executive branch on the level of these municipalities are headed by gamgebeli; these heads of the local municipalities are elected by Sakrebulos. Heads of municipalities appoint representatives, or as they are called ‘village trustees’ (soplis rtsmunebuli) for each village within respective municipalities.
There are five “self-governing cities” – Tbilisi; Kutaisi; Batumi; Rustavi and Poti. Mayors of these cities, except of Tbilisi, are elected by their respective local city councils (Sakrebulos). Tbilisi is the only city in Georgia where mayor is elected directly by voters.
According to the government-proposed reform plan, on a village level “direct democracy” will be introduced in a form of “village assembly”, which will be authorized to elect assembly chairperson and council of representatives. Although these self-governing bodies will not have their own independent budgets, they will have the authority to select and monitor various local infrastructure projects in frames of village support and other programs. Villages will also be able to obtain status of “legal entity of public law” that will allow them to receive funding from municipal local self-governance to implement specific projects on the ground. Relevant legislative amendments, according to the government’s plan, will be made in 2013 to prepare for introduction of the system by 2014 local elections.
According to the concept, “self-governing towns and communities” will be formed on the level of municipalities. Borders of these self-governing units on the level of municipalities will be defined before 2014 local elections and these elections will be held in accordance to newly defined borders, according to the concept.
Local legislative bodies of these self-governing units (Sakrebulo) will be elected for two-year term; heads of executive branch of these self-governing bodies – heads of villages and communities (gamgebeli) and mayors of towns – will also be directly elected. Local self-governance on this level will have their own budgets.
The reform will lead to significant increase in number of self-governing units on the level of municipalities from current 69 to more than 200, but exact number will only be defined on the later stage in the process of mapping new boundaries, according to the minister of regional development and infrastructure Davit Narmania.
On the level of regions (mkhare) representatives of Sakrebulos from those municipalities, which make up that particular region, will form Regional Councils (samkhareo sabcho).
Executive branch on the regional level will be led by head of the regional administration. Regional Council will select three candidates for the post of governor and Georgia’s central government will appoint one from those three candidates.
Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure Davit Narmania says that the government wants to carry out reform gradually and for that reason it decided not to make post of regional governor directly elected at this stage. He, however, also said that the concept was open for discussions including on this specific issue.
Capital city Tbilisi will have “a special status”, according to the concept, uniting functions of both the municipal and regional self-governance. The capital city will be divided into municipalities/districts. Tbilisi will have City Council and each of the capital’s municipality will have its Sakrebulo. Mayor of Tbilisi and heads of municipalities (gamgebeli) will represent executive branch; Tbilisi mayor will be directly elected, as it is now.
Each municipal self-governing unit, as well as self-governance on the regional level, will have its “own, independent budget,” according to the reform plan.
Legislative amendments regulating budgetary issues of the self-governance units will go into force in a period between 2015 and 2017, according to the concept.
The plan is to keep revenues collected from property tax in local budgets as it is now, but on top of that to add local budgets revenues from income tax divided between municipal and regional local governments with most of the income tax revenues going to municipal budgets and less share to regional budget. Revenues from profit tax will also be divided with one part going into budget of regional local self-governance and another part to the central budget of the country. The local budgets will also be filled with transfers from the central budget.
The plan also involves adoption of a law in 2013 specifically for high-mountainous regions, envisaging preferential treatment of such regions, plus providing additional financial assistance and carrying out measures aimed at discouraging migration of population from high-mountainous settlements.