Over 10,000 socially disadvantaged Tbilisi residents will go unserved by the free cafeteria program in 2016
In recent days, the funding in the 2016 Tbilisi budget for free cafeterias, which serve Tbilisi’s socially disadvantaged population has been actively discussed. This post presents information, analysis, and recommendations grounded in the research.
In 2015, at more than 60 locations throughout Tbilisi, 32,157 socially disadvantaged individuals were served a free meal a day. While the upper limit per beneficiary was GEL 1.18 per day, costs were lower in a number of districts.
According to the 2016 draft Tbilisi budget, funding for free meals will increase from GEL 13.89 million to GEL 14.29 million (by GEL 407,900). The increase will only provide meals for 1402 additional beneficiaries, while 10,500 people will remain on the waiting list for the service. The number of individuals on the waiting lists increases daily. Providing a free meal to every Tbilisi resident on the waiting lists would require only GEL 4.5 million on top of current costs, or GEL 20 million in total. Considering Tbilisi’s GEL 810 million budget, this is not a significant expense.
Figure 1. Free meal beneficiaries vs. waitlisted individuals in 2015-2016.1
1. The free meal service: A step forward
In 2016 compared with 2013, funding for free meals in Tbilisi increased by 93.5%, a significant increase. Moreover, beneficiaries noted in interviews3 that food quality and sanitation have improved at the cafeterias. Despite this, in 2016 approximately 10,500 individuals will remain on the waiting lists.
In all ten of Tbilisi’s district administrations, heads of the social service offices and/or specialists believe that the majority of free meal beneficiaries are in true need of the food they receive through the free cafeteria service.
As our analysis showed, the increase of funding in free meals is not caused by free meals going to individuals who do not actually need them, but rather to improving the quality of meals and sanitation in cafeterias. These steps are important, because they help gain the trust of the beneficiaries, which encourages them to spread the word about the program. In turn, this can help facilitate an increase in the number of individuals served. Overall, in providing more free meals there is only a small risk that meals will be provided to individuals who do not need them.
Figure 2: Funding for free meals in Tbilisi, 2013-2016 (Thou. GEL)
Our research found the following five problems with the Tbilisi free cafeteria program.
2.1. Citizens in severe need remain hungry on the reserve and supplementary lists:3 As has been noted, at present, there are more than 10,500 people who have been on the two lists for the free cafeteria service for an extended period of time. Individuals are placed on the main list when spots open up because individuals on the main list pass away, experience a change in social status, or are regularly absent (do not come to receive food more than ten times). Frequently, individuals are on the waiting lists for months or years.
Individuals are also placed on supplementary and reserve lists. While individuals on the supplementary list can receive what remains after beneficiaries on the main list have been served, individuals on the reserve list cannot. However, the absolute majority of individuals on the supplementary list do not receive a meal, because it is not often that any food is left over at the cafeterias. Because of this, individuals on the supplementary list rarely visit the cafeterias.
2.2. Bureaucratic obstacles: To register for the free cafeteria service, a significant number of documents are required, including:
A document from the Social Service Agency indicating rating points;
Birth certificates for children aged 6-18;
A copy of a marriage certificate (state or religious) if a beneficiary wants to take food for their spouse.
2.3. Children up to six years old: Food is not provided to children under the age of six, because a pediatrician concluded that the food from the cafeterias would be inappropriate for them. This places a heavy burden on the children of socially disadvantaged families.
2.4. Saburtalo and Isani: The number of beneficiaries on the main list in Saburtalo and Isani increased significantly even though the current contract with suppliers does not ensure enough food for them:
In Isani, the number of beneficiaries increased from 3400 to 3904. The contract with the food provider, however, only covers 3400 people.
Saburtalo district administration has an agreement with Tamaz Sikharulidze (sole proprietor) for 978 beneficiaries from March 2015 to December 31st, 2017 and simplified procurement agreements with three suppliers (for approximately GEL 100,000). In 2015, there were 1645 beneficiaries on the main list and in 2016 there will be 1833. As opposed to the waiting list, every beneficiary on the main list should receive free meals. Consequently, it is unclear how Saburtalo’s district administration intends on providing meals for the hundreds of additional beneficiaries.
If the government does not announce a new tender and the district administration places the responsibility of supplying food for additional beneficiaries on the current suppliers, the increase could seriously damage the quality of food.
Vague responsibilities and penalties for non-fulfillment by service providers: The obligations, penalties that apply for non-fulfillment of contract, and conditions which must be met in instances of non-fulfillment for free meal suppliers are not adequately detailed in Order 1879 of the Tbilisi Mayor (November 26, 2014).
In order to improve the situation, we believe that the following steps should be taken:
The Tbilisi Mayor’s Office should increase funding for the free meal subprogram. Based on the information provided to us by Tbilisi district administration’s social service offices, an increase of GEL 4.5 million annually is needed to cover meals for the 10,500 individuals who were on the reserve and supplementary lists as of November 30th.
It is important that Social Service offices in Tbilisi’s districts have easy access to Social Service Agency and Public Registry databases, so that bureaucratic barriers do not prevent those who already experience severe social problems from registering for the free meal service. Quite a number of beneficiaries have had problems registering for the service because of bureaucratic barriers.
- We fully understand that it is necessary for a citizen to receive free meals to meet certain requirements. It is important to note however that social service offices of the district administrations could easily ascertain whether or not beneficiaries meet the requirements once they (the offices) have access to the databases.
The responsibilities and penalties for non-fulfilment for suppliers of free meals given in Order 1879 of the Tbilisi Mayor (November 26, 2014) should be set out in more detail in order to minimize the risk of declining food quality and service at the cafeterias.
After necessary changes to the free cafeteria subprogram’s menus, the program should be expanded to cover children up to the age of six. This will require the issuance of another tender. As noted above, not including children under six in the program is a significant burden on socially disadvantaged families.
1 The number of individuals on the supplementary and reserve lists changes regularly. This chart presents data obtained from district social service offices in Tbilisi on November 16-17. By the 30th of November however, roughly 1000 additional individuals had been added to the lists. Hence there are more than 10,500 people who are interested in, but not receiving free meals at the cafeterias.
2 We interviewed approximately ten beneficiaries in five of Tbilisi districts.
3 In Nadzaldevi for example, food is left over for beneficiaries on the supplementary list, although in many districts it is not (particularly on days when meat is served). Sometimes there is food left over, but what is left is insufficient. Another issue is that reserve and supplementary beneficiaries often do not come to the cafeterias, because they generally think that there will not be any food left. Therefore, the goal of grouping the reserve and supplementary lists is to ensure that enough resources are allocated to feed every socially disadvantaged individual in Tbilisi.