The practice of using citizen engagement mechanisms in municipalities of Adjara has partially improved
In comparison to 2015-2016, the practice of using citizen engagement mechanisms in the municipalities of Adjara has improved in 2017-2019. Nevertheless, local governments need to work on improving the quality of citizen engagement.
Transparency International Georgia has requested information from the city halls and Sakrebulos of Batumi, Khulo, Keda, Shuakhevi, Kobuleti and Khelvachauri municipalities to determine to what extent the existing legislation supports citizen engagement, whether municipal authorities make use of the opportunities provided by the legislation and with what issues the citizens address the local self-government.
Similar research was published by our organization on the municipalities of Adjara in 2017, in which identical data from 2015-2016 was analysed.
This study covers the period January 1, 2017, through August 16, 2019.
The study found the following:
- Similar to 2015-2016, general assemblies were held in 4 out of 6 municipalities of Adjara (Khelvachauri, Shuakhevi, Keda, Khulo) in 2017-2019;
- The council of civil advisors, which is a deliberative body, operates in all municipalities. This is a positive change, as in 2015-2016, the council of civil advisors was not established in Khelvachauri Municipality, and not a single meeting was held in Kobuleti and Keda municipalities;
- A total of 38 petitions were registered during the reporting period, which is 10 times more than in 2015-2016. Moreover, if no electronic petition registration system was introduced in any of the municipalities of Adjara in 2015-2016, the system was implemented in Keda, Kobuleti, Khelvachauri and Batumi municipalities in 2017-2019;
- In 2017-2019, the Sakrebulo members held meetings with the voters in all municipalities and presented their annual activity report. At the same time, the mayors of Keda, Khulo, Shuakhevi, Khelvachauri and Batumi have also presented their annual reports to the public;
- The municipality of Batumi did not hold a general assembly meeting in 2017-2019. Although the mayor periodically held meetings with the population in different administrative units and is aware of the issues the locals are facing, a general assembly meeting is required in these administrative units for the purpose of planning the draft budget of the next year;
- As in 2015-2016, as well as 2017-2019, the attendance rate for the Sakrebulo sessions is low: Citizens did not attend the sessions of the Shuakhevi, Khulo and Khelvachauri municipal councils; other municipalities did not provide us with the information on attendance;
- Obtaining public information is a challenge: for example, the data provided by the municipalities of Batumi, Shuakhevi, Kobuleti, and Keda are incomplete, while the municipalities of Kobuleti and Shuakhevi did not provide the information in a timely manner.
Use of citizen engagement mechanisms in the Municipalities of Adjara from January 2017 to August 2019:
General Assembly of a Settlement
According to Article 852 of the Local Self-Government Code, one of the main mechanisms of citizen involvement in local government is the general assembly of a settlement.
A General Assembly of a settlement is a form of citizen participation in the self-organization of the population of a village / small town / city, and in the exercise of local self-government that ensures active engagement of the constituents registered in the relevant settlement in the discussion and solution of those issues that are important to that settlement and municipality, and in the process of initiation of the above issues before the municipal bodies.
As in 2015-2016, from January 2017 until August 2019, there were no general assemblies in the Batumi municipality, while the Kobuleti municipality did not provide us with this information.
In order to identify priority projects implemented under the Rural Support Program, a general assembly was held in all villages and communities of Shuakhevi and Khelvachauri municipalities in 2018-2019, which is a positive development, as the Shuakhevi municipality convened only once in 2015-2016.
During the reporting period, a general assembly was held in 12 villages of the Khulo municipality. Out of the 6 villages, the rural support program was discussed in 6 villages, while the rural infrastructure needs were discussed in the remaining 6 villages.
In the Keda municipality, the general assembly was held twice in the villages of Zendidi and Mosiashvilebi.
According to Articles 854 and 855 of the Local Self-Government Code, at least 5% of registered voters must call for a general assembly to be held. At the same time, the general assembly is authorized when it is attended by at least 20% of the voters. These two requirements complicate the convocation of the general assembly of the settlement because:
- Some settlements have may have a large population;
- The actual address of the 20% of registered voters may not match their legal address;
- The interests of a small group of citizens in convening a general assembly of the settlement may not be in the interest of 20% of the electorate.
Petition is a form of citizen engagement in the exercise of local self-government.
A petition can be filed by at least 1 % of the constituents registered in the territory of the municipality and the General Assembly.
It is important to note that the electronic petition system was implemented in the Keda, Kobuleti, Khelvachauri and Batumi municipalities. At the same time, the Batumi City Council lowered the 1% margin and granted the right to petition to 0.5% of voters, which is likely to have a positive effect on the degree of citizen involvement and the increase in the number of petitions.
However, it is noteworthy that 7 petitions were registered in the Batumi Municipal Assembly during the reporting period, which is twice less than the number of petitions received in 2015-2017.
In 2017-2018, 8 petitions were registered in the Kobuleti Municipality Sakrebulo and 5 in the Keda Municipality Sakrebulo.
In 2017-2018, the Khelvachauri Municipality Sakrebulo received 7 petitions, which is 4 more than in 2015-2016.
During the monitoring period, the Khulo Sakrebulo registered 6 petitions, while the Shuakhevi Sakrebulo registered 5 petitions.
Council of civil advisors
According to the Local Self-Government Code, the council of civil advisors, which is the deliberative body of the Gamgebeli/Mayor of the Municipality, is also a citizen engagement mechanism in the operation of the self-government.
A council of civil advisors is composed of the representatives of entrepreneurial legal entities, of NGOs and of the municipality population. The council of civil advisors is composed of at least 10 members and the number of representatives of one gender in a council of civil advisors is at least one third of the total number of its members. A council of civil advisors shall not be authorized if the requirement of this paragraph has not been met. A council of civil advisors meets at least once in three months. The decision is recorded in the minutes of the session.
The council of civil advisors is established in all municipalities of Adjara and sessions have been held. This is a significant positive change, as in 2015-2016, the above-mentioned council did not exist in the Khelvachauri municipality, and the councils established in Kobuleti and Keda municipalities did not hold any meetings.
Gender balance is maintained in all council of civil advisors.
Information about the participation in the sessions of the council of civil advisors
The local self-government law grants citizens the right to attend council meetings. Citizens have the opportunity to register at the sessions, and their opinions or requests will be reflected in the minutes of the session.
The majority of Adjara municipalities publish information on the agenda of the Sakrebulo meeting on the website.
In 2017-2019, two citizens expressed their desire to participate in the Khelvachauri Sakrebulo sessions, which is confirmed by the applications lodged by them in the Sakrebulo. According to information provided by the Khulo Sakrebulo, citizens have not registered at the Sakrebulo sessions since 2017, while the rest of the municipalities have not provided this information.
Meetings with the voters and presentation of the performance report by the public officials
The presentation of the performance report by public officials and meetings of the Sakrebulo members with the voters also represents a citizen engagement mechanism. According to Local Self-Government Code, these meetings should be held by the Sakrebulo members at least once a year.
In 2017-2018, 15 members of the Batumi Sakrebulo had regular meetings with voters in the Sakrebulo building as well as in majoritarian districts. At the same time, members of the Batumi Sakrebulo submitted reports on their activities during this period, however, no minutes were done on the public hearings of these reports.
Nine members of the Keda municipality Sakrebulo in 2017-2018 presented public reports about their activities in Merisi, Tsonisari, Zvare and Dandalo villages, which is a significant improvement over 2015-2016, as the Keda municipality Sakrebulo members did not make a public report to the population during the previous reporting period.
As in 2015-2016, members of Kobuleti Municipality Sakrebulo and representatives of the executive branch of the municipality regularly hold meetings with the citizens in 2017-2018, though no minutes have been made. At the same time, in 2017-2018, 3 members of the Sakrebulo presented the public report. It is important to note that in 2017, the Kobuleti Sakrebulo registered a petition to report to the population several times a year by the Sakrebulo members; however on September 29, 2017, the Sakrebulo didn’t approve the petition based on the argument that the Local Self-Government Code already establishes a specific date for the presentation of the report by the Sakrebulo members.
The situation in the Khelvachauri Municipality Sakrebulo has not changed: As it was the case in 2015-2016, the Sakrebulo members in 2017-2019 do not hold a presentation of their report to the citizens in the Sakrebulo. To see the annual reports on the activities of the Sakrebulo members, the Administration of the Municipality Sakrebulo has directed us to their website. According to the received information, the members of the Sakrebulo, who hold field meetings with citizens, present the information to the Sakrebulo.
In 2017, the Khulo Municipal Sakrebulo members did not report to citizens and did not conduct field meetings with voters. In 2018, the Sakrebulo members, like in 2015-2016, fulfilled both of these obligations.
According to information received from the Shuakhevi municipality, all Sakrebulo members will submit a report by the end of the year. At the same time, members of the Sakrebulo hold individual field meetings, although no minutes are drawn up.
In all municipalities, the issues discussed at outreach meetings were in most cases related to infrastructure, social assistance, health, employment and land registration.
At the same time, the mayors of the municipalities of Batumi, Shuakhevi, Keda, Khulo and Khelvachauri have submitted their reports to the population, while the Kobuleti municipality has not provided this information.
Conclusion and Recommendations
This study shows that compared to previous years, municipalities in Adjara have been using the mechanisms of citizen engagement more effectively: the possibility of submitting petitions electronically in Keda, Kobuleti, Khelvachauri and Batumi is particularly noteworthy, however, according to Transparency International Georgia, the following steps need to be considered to further improve citizen engagement:
- It is important to allow small groups of voters to convene a general assembly of the settlement in order to simplify the holding of such meetings;
- In order to make the local population more motivated to convene assembly meetings, the local self-government should preferably study the decision taken at the meeting and try as much as possible to take the decision into account in the execution of the budget;
- It is important that, as it is the case in Batumi, other municipalities reduce the number of signatures required to register a petition from 1% to 0.5%. This will allow smaller groups of voters to initiate discussion within the local self-government on the resolving of vital issues;
- Not all municipal Sakrebulos maintain minutes of field meetings with the voters, which is a problem because municipalities can use the information contained in the minutes when submitting budgetary remarks and / or recommendations to the draft budget by the city hall. The minutes should contain information on the members of the Sakrebulo, place of meeting, time, issues discussed, participating voters and their views. At the same time, it is important for the minutes to be signed not only by the members of the Sakrebulo, but also by the attending citizens to confirm the information in the minutes. However, this obligation must be written in the Rules of Procedure of the Sakrebulo.
- It is imperative for local self-governments to provide timely and complete information to interested parties and organizations.
 City Hall of Kobuleti municipality did not provide us with the requested information;
 City Hall of Kobuleti municipality did not provide us with the requested information;