Government-proposed draft law on local self-governance reform is a “threat” because it will cause Georgia’s “disintegration”, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, said on December 4 and vowed to prevent the bill from being adopted.
The bill, which is based on a concept first unveiled by the government more than nine months ago, envisages mechanism promoting more engagement of locals in decision-making on the local level. It also introduces direct election of mayors of at least seventeen towns (now only capital city Tbilisi’s mayor is elected directly), as well as heads of all municipalities; the reform is expected to lead into division of existing municipalities and increasing their number from current 69 to about 120.
“The Parliament and the government are discussing local self-governance law. This is rather difficult issue. If implemented, it will lead us to Georgia’s disintegration. We will never tolerate it and we will do everything possible in order not to have it implemented,” Patriarch Ilia II said during a sermon in the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta outside Tbilisi.
“Georgia has been and will be united nation, single state and we should remember that when the government was strong and regions [united] around it the country was strong too. We believe that each and every district [raioni – or municipality] should be directly linked to the [central] government. The government should know the problems existing in each and every district; no intermediate link is needed for that purpose; the [central] government should itself consider hardship of each district, it should study what each district needs and the government itself should be trying to address problems existing in districts,” he said.
“For some reasons some try to hastily pass this law on the local self-governance. I think, the Church thinks, that it should be discussed with the people; the people should consider whether it is acceptable and whether it is good for Georgia. So we should not hurry… I would like to respectfully ask our parliament and government to take into consideration this threat and not to hurry with adoption of this [bill on local self-governance],” Patriarch Ilia II said.
Patriarch’s remarks both in respect of “threat of disintegration” and “attempts to hastily” adopt the bill echoes allegations which have been voiced recently by some non-parliamentary opposition parties.
“This artificial division [of municipalities], which the government calls de-centralization, may create serious problems in terms of separatism,” Giorgi Akhvlediani of Christian-Democratic Movement said on December 4.
Responding to this criticism of the draft of some non-parliamentary opposition parties, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili said earlier on December 4 before the Patriarch’s remarks: “Notion that the self-governance somehow poses threat to the integrity of the country is complete nonsense.”
“Did absence of de-centralization and self-governance prevented separatism in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali? It’s a wrong notion that self-governance can incite separatism. Separatism is incited by lack of rights,” Usupashvili said.
Commenting on Patriarch’s remarks, a lawmaker from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party, said later on December 4: “There is no threat whatsoever of country’s disintegration in this draft [law on local self-governance].”
“The Patriarchate, I think, simply lacks information [about the draft law]. The Patriarchate needs to be more informed and we will do that,” he said.