Who counts the trees to be cut down in Tbilisi and how
The studies of Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) and the organization "Safe Space" demonstrate that the situation in the capital's greening sector requires the urgent attention of the local and central authorities, as well as the concerned public. Especially when these findings are combined with the latest information on planned works disseminated by the City Service for Ecology and Greening of Tbilisi City Hall, which raise significant questions about the efficiency and transparency of this Service’s activities.
Tender for Cutting Down the Trees
According to the information posted on the integrated online system of state procurements, Tbilisi City Hall has announced the current tender on the procurement of services for cutting down, pollarding, and pruning of trees in the Tbilisi territory. Pursuant to the tender documentation, in 2013 it is planned to procure services for cutting down 2200 (dried out, in hazardous condition, sick) trees, the pollarding of 650 trees, and the pruning of 6000 trees in the Tbilisi territory. The City Hall expects to spend GEL 300,000 on this work.
In line with the tender documentation, these works must be fulfilled "pursuant to the acts drawn up based on monitoring carried out in 2013 by the inspection working group set up under the respective charter and 29 September 2009 Oder N1 of the City Service for Ecology and Greening of Tbilisi City Hall (which will be drawn up during the acts of God (storm, hail, landslide), as well as based on written submissions of physical persons and legal entities filed in the City Service for Greening), and also based on the conclusions of phytosanitary studies conducted in the Tbilisi territory, which will indicate the works of pruning, pollarding and cutting down of the plants by the addresses."
Remarkably, Tbilisi City Hall has announced a similar tender in January of this year as well, but the tender was later terminated due to the complaint of the representative of "Tbilisi Fountains" LLC Irakli Zhvania. The applicant claimed that the tender documentation was incomplete as it included neither the location of the trees to be cut down nor a conclusion consistent with agro-standards (which would justify the necessity of cutting down as well as the number of to-be-cut trees). The Dispute Examination Council of the State Procurements Agency has partially satisfied the complaint and instructed Tbilisi City Hall "to indicate in the tender documentation the location of at least those trees whose need for services is already known and justified."
Tbilisi City Hall has re-announced the tender on February 28 and has indeed indicated in the renewed documentation a certain number and location of trees whose need of being cut down, pollarded or pruned was established by monitoring carried out in December 2012 and January 2013. It is worth mentioning, however, that the information included in the renewed tender documentation still leaves questions as to the justification and expediency of planned works.
In particular, the tender foresees cutting down 2200 trees, the pollarding of 650 trees and the pruning of 6000 trees in Tbilisi in 2013. Pursuant to the same tender documentation, monitoring carried out in December 2012 and January 2013 has identified the need to cut down only 9 trees, pollard 19 trees, and prune 17 trees. In view of the data of these two months it is unclear how Tbilisi City Hall calculated the number of trees to be cut down or pollarded during the next 12 months.
It is worth noting that, after re-launching the tender, the Tbilisi City hall incerased both the volume of the planned work and the amount of money allocated for it. (The original tender documents provided for cutting down 1,990 trees, pollarding 500 trees, and pruning 3,300 trees, while the expected total cost of the work was GEL 280,000.)
The number of trees to be cut down in Tbilisi may be more, or less, than 2200, but the huge inconsistency between the two-month data and the volume of planned cuts throughout the entire year presented by Tbilisi City Hall speaks of serious gaps in the system of identification and registration of the trees to be cut down.
Phytosanitary studies are a subject of a separate discussion (the conclusions of which, according to the same tender documentation, must be the key basis for cutting down the trees in the city).
"Forest Consulting" LLC has won the tenders on these works (phytosanitary study of green vegetation of Tbilisi and its outskirts, examination-identification of malicious diseases and planning of complex measures against them) announced by Tbilisi City Hall in 2011 and 2012. The organization "Safe Space" has been trying to establish since 2011 whether the studies foreseen under the agreements executed based on the tender, are in fact being carried out. In December 2011 "Safe Space" addressed the court about this issue and requested Tbilisi City Hall to present the acts of receipt and delivery executed with the company, and the conclusions drawn up by the City Hall's inspection group which would prove whether the works under the agreement had indeed been fulfilled. Pursuant to the ruling of the Tbilisi City Court (case N3/706-12, 19.04.2012), a representative of Tbilisi City Hall has presented at a court hearing the acts of receipt and delivery, stating that City Hall does not possess any other materials in connection with this case.
Although the City Court has terminated proceedings due to the "absence of a subject dispute", the fact alone that Tbilisi City Hall (according to its own representative) does not have any other document concerning this case, apart from the acts of receipt and delivery, gives rise to substantial doubts as to the fulfillment of works under the agreement. In accordance with the agreement executed between City Hall and the company, (Paragraph 6.3), an act of receipt and delivery shall be executed based on the conclusion of an insspection group and the reports submitted by the supplier. Thus, the absence of documents of the last two categories is strange indeed.
In February of this year Tbilisi City Hall once again announced the similar tender. Although it is not over as of today, "Forest Consulting" will presumably win again. Apart from this company, only one other contender – an individual entrepreneur "Maka Zaalishvili Saba" - has participated in the tender but was subsequently disqualified due to gaps in the technical documentation. Interestingly, the e-mail address of this individual entrepreneur indicated in the Public Registry extract (email@example.com) coincides with the e-mail address of "Forest Consulting" LLC, found in the integrated online system of state procurements. Substantial doubts are thus raised about the real competition between "Forest Consulting" and "Maka Zaalishvili Saba", as well as the good faith of the tender process as a whole.
Based on all of the above, several noteworthy circumstances have to be stressed. Namely:
There is a threat that the budgetary funds spent through the tender are not in fact used for meeting the existing public needs (i.e really cutting down the dried out trees).
Unfortunately, the practice of recent years illustrates that healthy trees are often cut down in the city while the dying ones may stand untouched for years. Presumably the absence of a proper system of registration and identification of the trees to be cut down is one of the key reasons of this.
Cutting down healthy trees as a result of the flawed system on one hand damages the city's ecology, and on the other hand leads to non-targeted spending of budgetary funds.
Possible ways of resolving the problem and reducing the corruption risk:
To avoid these two serious problems, it is crucial to set up a system to ensure that the funds allocated from the budget are only spent for these purposes oncethe existence of real problems is confirmed by a relevant competent conclusion. Otherwise, there still will be an increasing risk of spending the budgetary funds in the private interests of concrete officials or companies (to the detriment of the city, its population and ecology). Owing to such risks, the greening sector may even be a certain exception where especially strict requirements are introduced in terms of the procurements.
It seems that the existing system grants the Service for Ecology and Greening excessive freedom in terms of calculating the number of trees to be cut down throughout a year, as well as in issuing the permission for cutting down the trees to private entities. As a result, cases were reported in recent years when the Service had issued the permission to cut down healthy trees in the public space to private entities (presumably based in some cases on their political connections).
Hence, it is necessary on one hand to limit the discretion of the Service for Ecology and Greening by introducing clear and unambiguous norms in this sector, and on the other hand to exercise tangible control over practical activities of the Service through the city's representative authority (Sakrebulo), as well as through the respective state agencies.
The issues discussed herein, as well as the problems identified in recent years in this sector (constructions in the city's parks and gardens, transfer of recreation zones into private ownership or management, violations during the purchase of trees and plants for example) demonstrate that currently the city of Tbilisi does not have the effective management system of greening. This jeopardizes the city's ecological state and long-term sustainable development.
Therefore, it is crucial that the city's authorities (City Hall, Sakrebulo) and the respective agencies of central authorities (primarily the Ministry of Environment) immediately initiate public discussions over the above-described problems, with the participation of the broadest spectrum of interested citizens and organizations. The overall objective of the process should be to set up the legislative and practical mechanisms that secure the maintenance and future development of the city's greening.