Obscure Lease of Mushtaidi Park
Georgian media reported in June that the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office had handed over the Mushtaidi Park to a private company with a long-term lease. A representative of the Property Management Agency of the Mayor’s Office (which was cited as the source of the information) stated that the Geo Gold company had acquired the park’s management rights for the next 49 years and would invest GEL 1 million in the park over the next five years. The same official said that the Mayor’s Office was planning to employ this kind of management model for the city’s other parks.
The fact that a private company will manage a state-owned urban park is not unacceptable by itself. However, seeking to verify media reports and comparing data from the Public Registry, the City Council website and the Central Electoral Commission, TI Georgia found that Geo Gold is owned by a member of the Tbilisi City Council, Aleksandre Nikolaishvili.
Although this is not a violation of the law by itself, the fact that the Mayor’s Office has handed over a park owned by the city to a City Council member is hardly an example of good and transparent governance. We want to emphasize that (as the Property Management Agency told us) the Mushtaidi Park was given to Geo Gold directly, without a competitive selection process. It is worth noting that members of the City Council do not have the status of public officials, and as a consequence are not subject to strict conflict of interest rules. Their asset declarations are therefore not publicly accessible.
Public interests require the lease process to be transparent and that the necessary safeguards be incorporated in the contract signed with the selected company, in order to ensure that the park’s recreational value is preserved. For this reason, we decided to examine the contract signed by the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office and Geo Gold. Unfortunately, the Property Management Agency refused to give us a copy of the contract and stated that the contract was a commercial secret under Article 27(2) of the General Administrative Code of Georgia.
We believe that the aforementioned legal provision is of questionable applicability to the contract signed by the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office and Geo Gold. In any case, the Property Management Agency could have publicized the parts of the contract that do not contain information deemed to be a commercial secret. Moreover, under the General Administrative Code, information may only be declared a commercial secret following a request by an interested party, who is required to submit the information about their request to the Public Registry. We asked the Property Management Agency to provide information as to who had requested that the contract be declared a commercial secret and when, and also to confirm that the request had been submitted to the Public Registry. However, the Property Management Agency did not give us this information either.
Since the decision regarding the lease of Mushtaidi Park was made without public discussion and the contract remains a secret, verbal statements by the Mayor’s Office representatives are presently the only way for citizens to obtain information on this subject. The obscurity of the process is a matter of concern and raises important questions as to whether the recreational function of the park will be protected and preserved in the future.
These questions are particularly important because the Mayor’s Office (as its representatives have stated) intends to use a similar model of management in the city’s other parks. We call on the Mayor’s Office to ensure that future implementations of the Mushtaidi model be taken only after public consultation, and that the process be as transparent as possible.