Citizen Participation Mechanisms – Inadequate Use of Resources in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Municipalities
Active involvement of citizens in the governance and decision-making processes is one of the cornerstones of democratic governance. It holds particularly true at the level of local self-governance, as responsibility for settlement of primary and communal needs of citizens rests with the municipal authorities.
Congruent to the effective law of Georgia, possibility of initiating a draft resolution of Municipal Council (Sakrebulo) by means of a petition is defined as one of the tools of citizen participation; furthermore, the Local Self-Government Code provides for publicity of work performed by local authorities and sets out the obligation of reporting by local officials. Meantime, the Code allows the citizens to convene a session of Sakrebulo, hold a general assembly of a settlement, and engage in the process of drafting and reviewing the budget. In the office of Gamgebeli/Mayor, there should be a council of civil advisors established; members of Sakrebulo shall periodically pay field visits to citizens and etc.
Transparency International – Georgia studied the way the mentioned mechanisms of civil participation are applied in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Imereti regions and the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. Below we present findings for Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region.
We retrieved from the municipalities 2015-2016 data on the following issues: general assembly of a settlement, council of civil advisors, reports on the work performed by local officials, participation of citizens in the sessions of Sakrebulo, meetings of Sakrebulo members with constituents.
In the reporting period, 24 petitions were registered in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti municipalities. Petitions were discussed by Sakrebulos of Zugdidi community, city of Zugdidi, Poti, Abasha, Chkhorotsku and Tsalenjikha. No petition was registered in Senaki, Mestia and Khobi Sakrebulos. Martvili Sakrebulo has not provided information on petitions.
Study of collected information has revealed that in most cases, citizens do not use petitions for amending certain types of legal regulations; through petitions, they mostly ask to perform various types of construction/installation works (speed limiting barriers, arrangement of outdoor lighting, road rehabilitation, coastal line reinforcement work, drinking water system, rehabilitation of football mini-stadiums, deployment of trash bins in the streets, etc.).
On 3 August 2016, civil initiative groups filed several petitions to Sakrebulo of Zugdidi municipality within the project “Petition – Voice of People on Self-Governance”. According to Sakrebulo, petitions pertained to the ongoing projects as well as plans for 2017.
In the study period, 3 petitions were registered at Zugdidi City Sakrebulo. Requirements were as follows:
- Rehabilitation of drainage and sewage systems on Beria, Khorava, St. Nino, Tolstoy, Kutaisi, Tabidze and Kobakhidze streets in city of Zugdidi – based on the information provided by Sakrebulo, drainage canals have been arranged in part of the streets; as for the remaining work, it will be completed in 2017-2018; complete rehabilitation of sewage system in city of Zugdidi will start in a few months;
- Designation of parking sites in city of Zugdidi – the issue was supported by Sakrebulo;
- Arrangement of a park in city of Zugdidi, on Dadiani Street in memory to Giga Otkhozoria, killed by Russian occupants - discussion of the issue has not been completed yet.
On 7 September 2016, citizens filed a petition to Poti Sakrebulo, requesting to abolish the resolution N9/10, which Sakrebulo adopted on 29 July 1999 – “approval of tariffs for drinking water and disposable fecal fluids”. Sakrebulo dismissed the given petition, as the requirements for filing a petition were violated.
For now, there are 5 petitions registered in Poti Sakrebulo, which have not been considered yet (Poti Sakrebulo did not provide us with information about the contents of the petitions).
Overall, 7 petitions were registered in Chkhorotsku Sakrebulo. Requirements of citizens were as follows:
- Installation of vehicle speed limiting barriers;
- Installation of outdoor lighting in Chkhorotsku, on R. Dikhaminjia street and in former farming area of Tskhakaia;
- Rehabilitation of motorway;
- Reinforcement of river Khobistkali banks;
- Rehabilitation of drinking water system and regular water supply to the population;
- Rehabilitation of football stadiums
- Deployment of trash bins
According to Sakrebulo of Tchkhorotsku municipality, installation of speed barriers, rehabilitation of road and football stadiums is currently underway; the municipality has been awarded with two waste disposal vehicles; trash bins have already been installed.
In the study period, four petitions were registered in Sakrebulo of Tsalenjikha Municipality. Three of them were approved by Sakrebulo (Sakrebulo of Tsalenjikha has not provided us with information about the contents of the given petitions) whereas the fourth one, which envisaged rehabilitation of road between two villages of Tsalenjikha: Jgala and Meadni, was declined by Sakrebulo due to tight municipal resources. It is noteworthy that under 2017 local budget, it is planned to install a drainage system, culverts, gabion wall on the area as well as to arrange 150-meter concrete cover on one of the slopes.
As Transparency International – Georgia believes, exercise of petition right is to some extent impeded by the clause, whereby a petition can initiated by at least 1% of the constituents registered in the territory of a specific municipality. It is often difficult to mobilize large number of citizens in municipalities. In addition, an issue, which is a subject of a petition, may reflect interest of a smaller group, which represents less than percent of the total number of voters. Therefore, it is crucial that the right of initiating a petition be vested in small group of constituents as well.
It is noteworthy that none of the municipalities of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region employ electronic petition system. By resolution of Sakrebulo issued on 20 March 2017, municipality of city Zugdidi started to elaborate the issue. We think that other municipalities should also implement an identical system.
General Assembly of a settlement
By the amendment moved to the Local Self-Government Code of Georgia in July 2015, citizens were granted the right to convene the General Assembly of a settlement. At the assembly, citizens publicly discuss issues important for the settlement and address the municipality with drafted recommendations. To convene the General Assembly of a settlement:
- At least three constituents work out an application for convocation of the General Assembly and submit it to Gamgebeli/Mayor;
- Gamgeoba/City Hall registers the initiative and Gamgebeli/Mayor issues a certificate of registration within the period of 3 working days;
- Within the period of 1 month after receipt of the registration certificate, the applicants compose a list of constituents (at least 5%), willing to convene the assembly; in addition, they indicate the date, time and place of the meeting and submit the application to Gamgebeli/City Hall. After that, the General Assembly may be convened within 15 days;
- To run its business and facilitate its work, the General Assembly of a settlement is entitled to elect a Chairperson, whose candidacy has been supported by at least 5% of the assembly members;
- The General Assembly is duly constituted if it is attended by at least 20% of the constituents registered in the respective settlement;
- The General Assembly of a settlement may be convened by Gamgebeli/Mayor, on his own initiative or upon the motion of Sakrebulo.
Study of collected information reveals that General Assembly meetings have not been convened in most of the municipalities; as for the municipalities, where they have been held, they were mostly convened by Gamgebeli and not the civil groups.
To bring an example, in municipality of Zugdidi community, citizens have five times initiated the General Assembly of the settlement. However, the meeting failed to be held as the required number of constituents, that is 20%, could not be mobilized. By initiative of Zugdidi Municipality Gamgebeli, the General Assembly was convened in 48 administrative units, with 27 meetings held successfully (based on the data as of 28 February 2017). It is noteworthy that none of the minutes of the General Assembly provided by Gamgeoba contains details on the attending citizens (name / surname); their signatures cannot be found either. The minutes just present the number of attendants.
General Assembly meetings were held in Abasha municipality as well; unlike Zugdidi case, minutes of Abasha meetings are accompanied by names of attending citizens and their signatures.
It is also noteworthy that information provided by Gamgeoba of Zugdidi and Abasha municipalities does not allow us to determine whether Chair of the Assembly was selected at the meeting.
The General Assembly of the settlement has not been convened in Senaki, Khobi, Chkhorotsku and Tsalenjikha municipalities; however, as of February 2017, there were three initiatives registered in Tsalenjikha Gamgeoba. Poti City Hall and Mestia Municipality Gamgeoba did not provide us any information on the general assembly of the settlement.
According to Transparency International – Georgia, two conditions imposed on convocation of the General Assembly of a settlement: 1. an application for convening an assembly, signed by 5% of constituents and 2. No decision-making power unless the meeting is attended by at least 20% of constituents, substantially reduce chances of convening and holding a meeting due to the large number of constituents in specific settlements; in case of separate villages, 20% of registered constituents may not be living at their places of registration; in addition, desire of a small group for invitation of the General Assembly may not be shared by 20% of the constituents. With these factors in mind, we believe that it is necessary to have the right of convening the General Assembly vested in smaller groups of constituents.
The fact that convocation of the General Assembly does not guarantee resolution of problems identified by the population is yet another problem. Appeal of the Assembly to the municipality is of advisory nature.
Due to complicated procedure of convening the assembly, the population is left with the 2nd lever - the right of Gamgebeli/Mayor to convene a meeting. In this case, there is a risk of huge discrepancy in the interests of the population and Gamgebeli/Mayor.
Presently, in the settlement, where a Chair of the Assembly is elected, Gamgebeli / Mayor is obliged to convene a meeting at least twice a year; in order to more frequently communicate with the population, it is necessary to increase the frequency up to four times (meantime, it is necessary to reduce the quorum set for legal capacity - 20%). This way, communication between Gamgebeli/Mayor and the population will be quarterly; certain decisions will be adopted through direct communication of the municipality and the citizens.
Meeting of Sakrebulo members with constituents
The Local Self-Government Code obligates Sakrebulo members to hold a meeting with constituents at least once a year, while by Sakrebulo regulations of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti municipalities, Sakrebulo members shall meet their constituents at least once in three months.
It is noteworthy that except for Poti, Sakrebulos of all municipalities are obliged to draw up minutes of the meeting with voters. As Poti Sakrebulo informed us in writing, Sakrebulo members do not produce minutes of the meeting with constituents, as the “effective legislation does not impose such requirement”. Transparency International-Georgia believes that producing minutes of the meeting with constituents is important, as it ensures presentation of the issues covered during the meeting and opinions expressed by voters in the form of an official document; this in turn, will make it easier for Sakrebulo members to identify the needs faced by the municipality and facilitate work on possible solutions.
Study of collected information has also revealed that only part of Sakrebulo members of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti municipalities hold a meeting with constituents. Except for rare occasions, minutes of the meetings never get to be drawn up.
To bring an example, the information retrieved from Sakrebulo of Zugdidi community shows that members of Sakrebulo produce minutes of meetings with the population (out of 42 members of Sakrebulo, we’ve only collected the minutes produced by 17 members). However, by our estimation, the majority of them are incomplete as they are not accompanied by signature of constituents participating in the meeting; in certain cases, minutes do not include the list of persons who attended the meeting. They are signed by Sakrebulo member only.
Members of Zugdidi City Sakrebulo are also holding meetings with voters; however, minutes of the meetings have only been drawn up by the representatives of the factions “Zugdidi” and the “United National Movement” - in both cases, signatures of participating citizens are missing. Members of Senaki and Martvili Sakrebulos have also drawn up minutes without presenting signature of citizens.
In the study period, members of Chkhorotsku Sakrebulo have held more than 600 meetings with constituents, but they have not submitted respective minutes. It is noteworthy that out of 28 members of Sakrebulo, just Ramaz Gulua, member of the United National Movement, has not held even a single meeting with the voters.
Unlike other municipalities, signatures of participating constituents are attached to the minutes submitted by Abasha Sakrebulo members, but not for all cases. Minutes produced by Khobi Sakrebulo members are also accompanied with the signature of constituents.
It is important that Sakrebulos move an amendment to the regulation; in order to verify the fact of holding a meeting and confirm authenticity of presented information, minutes of the meeting with constituents shall be signed by Sakrebulo member as well as by the constituents.
Report on the work performed by local officials
The Local Self-Government Code includes a general record on the obligation of officials to present a report on the work performed. According to the record, Gamgebeli/Mayor of the municipality and Sakrebulo members shall be obliged to hold public meetings at least once a year and present a report on performed work.
According to the information received from Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti municipalities, municipal officials do present reports. In most cases, electronic versions of the reports are available on municipal websites.
To ensure greater accountability on the part of officials:
- Frequency of reporting by public officials should be increased. A report should be presented in writing, in a pre-defined format. Information on presentation of a report should be disclosed at least one week in advance to ensure that maximum number of citizens are given an opportunity to attend the meeting, hear the report and ask questions. A report must be an official document, subject to public disclosure. In case of failing to hold meetings aimed at compiling, publishing and presenting the report to the population, disciplinary measures should be used against the responsible persons from Gamgeoba/City Hall, Sakrebulo. For example, partial deduction from the positional remuneration or from the funds allocated for execution of powers;
- Gamgebeli/Mayor of the municipality and Chairman of Sakrebulo should present a report to the population at least twice a year;
- In the beginning of the year, constituents should be informed about the activities planned throughout the year (during the budget year), while at the end of the year (before approval of the budget for the next year) – a report should be presented on the work performed and fulfillment of the budget;
- Upload of the reports to the official website of the municipality (Sakrebulo or Gamgeoba/City Hall) should be defined as a mandatory condition.
Council of Civil Advisors of Gamgebeli/Mayor
Congruent to another amendment to the Local Self-Government Code, Gamgebeli/Mayor of a municipality has been awarded the right to establish a council of civil advisors. The council is a deliberative body, which meets at least once in three months. It brings together entrepreneurial and non-entrepreneurial legal entities and representatives of the population.
Gamgebeli/Mayor of the municipality is obliged to discuss with the council:
- Draft municipal budget prior to its presentation to Sakrebulo;
- Documents related to the municipality spatial planning, proposals on giving name to the municipality’s geographical sites;
- Drafts of other administrative-legal acts;
- Infrastructural and social projects.
At least once a year, Mayor/Gamgebeli shall present a report on performed work to the Council.
As study of collected information has revealed, council of civil advisors is established and holds sessions in all municipalities of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region.
Congruent to the Local Self-Government Code, the number of representatives of one gender in a council of civil advisors shall be at least one third of the total number of its members. A council of civil advisors shall not be authorized if the given requirement has not been met.
The given requirement of the law is observed in all municipalities, except for Mestia – out of 12 members of the council, 9 members are men and 3 – women; thus, the Council is not authorized. According to the information received, in the period from 9 December 2015 (date of establishment of the council and approval of its composition) to present, the Council convened its session just once, on 14 November 2016.
Information on planned/pending sessions of Sakrebulo
Sakrebulos of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti municipalities publish information about the upcoming Sakrebulo sessions on their own websites. They have dates defined for regular sessions as well. For example, Zugdidi City Sakrebulo holds its regular session on the first Friday of each month; if the first Friday falls on a non-working day, it is postponed to the following working day.
Citizens have an unlimited right to attend Sakrebulo sessions, but as most of the municipalities have informed us, the given right is seldom exercised by citizens.
Elaboration and discussion of municipal budget draft
The effective legislation allows all interested persons to get involved in elaboration and review of the municipal budget draft; however, citizens rarely apply the given right.
In order to encourage citizens to engage in this process and to ensure that the final document adopted by Sakrebulo reflects the needs of all groups of citizens, certain steps should be taken by the municipality:
- Prior to development of municipal budget draft, self-government representatives should hold meetings in all settlements of the relevant territorial unit and examine existing problems and needs;
- After elaboration of the draft budget, self-government representatives should submit it to the population, publish an electronic version and thus allow any interested person to examine and consider the draft and present substantiated comments or suggestions.
As “Transparency International - Georgia” believes, there are two major problems with respect to citizen participation in the exercise of local self-government: in many cases, citizens are not well aware about participation tools and opportunities; besides, existing mechanisms do not allow for effective participation and they do not guarantee settlement of identified problems by the population.
The comments and recommendations presented in this report transcend the powers of the local self-government in individual cases and fall within the competence of the Parliament of Georgia. We believe that the amendments to the Local Self-Government Code, which aim to strengthen citizens’ engagement, should be based not only on theoretical analysis but also on practical experience of the organizations, exercising monitoring over the municipalities and their work.
The legislative regulations should be designed in a way to divide the process of citizen participation into several stages, such as problem identification, development of projects and alternatives, budgeting and financial planning, implementation; monitoring and evaluation of the project outcomes.