How a City Council works: Problems and Recommendations
Transparency International Georgia has twice evaluated the performance of the 2017 convocation of city councils in Batumi, Zugdidi, Poti, Kutaisi and Akhaltsikhe. These studies have shown that the problems identified in all the aforementioned City Councils are almost identical.
Ahead of the October 2 local self-government elections, we elaborated recommendations and drafted a review of the problems identified by us. We believe that consideration of these facts will support the City Councils of 2021 convocation in executing their obligations and functions accordingly. The City Councils have critical importance in the process of implementation of a self-governance - they define primary directions of municipalities, control the executive governments and the activities of the public officials and make decisions on issues of local importance.
Exercise of oversight function:
- The City Councils exercised a weak oversight of executive bodies and municipal legal entities, formally overseeing accountable public officials and relevant agencies. A decision made by the City Council of Zugdidi may be considered as an exception, where the City Council shared the recommendation provided by Transparency International Georgia and abolished a dysfunctional municipal company - Zugdidagroservice LTD, saving budget funds respectively;
- The City Councils have not identified any type of misconduct, conflict of interests, incompatible activities in the mayors’ activities, including in the state procurements. However, the researches published by Transparency International Georgia prove the opposite, according to which we revealed the cases of conflict of interests, alleged corruption deals and incompatible activities during the process of state procurements of each municipality. It proves the inexistence of political will within the City Councils to empower prevention mechanisms for corruption;
- The City Councils do not try to strengthen municipal internal audits, do not increase their functionalities and accountability. The internal audit departments are able to examine any ongoing process in the City Hall system, control activities and identify incompatible activities, conflict of interests in state procurements, however, usually, the internal audits exercise oversight formally.
- The CIty Councils, that were studied by Transparency International Georgia, have not invited an independent auditor, thus have not used the opportunity given by the Local Self-Government Code of Georgia.
Sessions of the City Council, their activities and participation of the members of the City Council in the council’s activities:
- In 2020, compared to previous years, the City Councils have improved the organizational side of their work - The number of planned sessions is greater than the number of extraordinary sessions. The City Council of Poti is an exemption, where 13 out of 22 sessions were extraordinary ones. This fact compromises the citizen involvement and the interest group mobilization. Less time is left for the preparation of agenda for the sessions.
- The City Councils of Batumi, Poti, Zugdidi, Kutaisi and Akhaltsikhe adopted 177 resolutions in total in 2020. 164 (93%) of the resolutions were initiated/authored by the Mayors of relevant municipalities, while 13 resolutions were prepared by the City Councils. The least active council was the City Council of Batumi - the Chairperson of the City Council of Batumi had only a single initiative during the whole year;
- Absences from the sessions of City Councils by their members without a valid reason are an important challenge for the City Councils;
- A significant number of members of the City Councils have not exercised their right to speech and have not delivered a report at the sessions of the City Councils in 2020. We do not possess the information about the City Council of Batumi. Regarding the other City Councils:
- 25 out of 50 members (50%) of the City Council of Zugdidi have not exercised their right to speech, while 41 members (82%) have not delivered a report;
- 21 out of 33 members (63%) of the CIty Council of Akhaltsikhe have not exercised their right to speech, nor have they delivered reports;
- 5 out of 25 members (20%) of the CIty Council of Kutaisi have not exercised their right to speech, while 17 members of the City Council (68%) have not delivered reports;
- Only a single member among 25 members of the City Council of Poti - Zurab Chachua, has not exercised his right to speech, while 16 members (64%) have not delivered reports.
Activities of factions:
- In every evaluated City Council, there are a few factions, which have not submitted a single initiative during the research period. In this regard, the City Councils of Poti and Akhaltsikhe are worth mentioning, none of their factions have submitted a single initiative during 2020.
- Considering the minimal performance of the factions, the expenditure made by municipalities on their activities are greatly disproportionate that covers remunerations, telephone communications, business trips and fuel expenses, for example, GEL 276,826 has been spent on the activities of 6 factions of the City Council of Zugdidi, while the City Council of Poti spent GEL 303,016 on 6 factions and the City Council of Akhaltsikhe spent GEL 178,934 on the activities of 5 factions.
Accountability and Citizen Involvement:
- The Mayors of the municipalities usually deliver their annual reports to the City Councils, however, this tradition has faded in recent years. For example, in 2020, the Mayor of Kutaisi has not delivered the annual report to the City Council; the factions / commissions of the City Council of Akhaltsikhe have not invited the Mayor or the representatives of executive body to discuss any type of issue; The City Council of Batumi has not held an extraordinary session and simply took the resignation of a former Mayor of Batumi, Lasha Komakhidze, into consideration;
- Public officials of the municipalities submit incomplete asset declarations;
- The citizen involvement performance indicator in the City Council’s activities has been low during 2020. The citizen involvement rate was insignificant during the recent years as well, however, Coronavirus pandemic has severely worsened it. The City Councils do not hold external sessions, they rarely hold public discussions of budgets. The City Council of Akhaltsikhe is the only one that has not held a public discussion of the budget and only the members of the City Council participated in the process;
- In 2020, 5 petitions have been registered in five City Councils. Among those, 3 petitions were registered at the City Council of Poti and a single petition at the City Council of Batumi and Zugdidi. A petition has not been registered at the City Council of Kutaisi, while the City Council of Akhaltsikhe did not adopt a standard form of petition in 2020 too. This fact deprives the citizens of capacity to exercise this mechanism of citizen involvement.
Activities of Gender Equality Councils:
- There are the Gender Equality Councils at the City Councils, which, same as the previous years, have been passive. They have not analyzed draft legal acts and have not submitted recommendations, nor have they worked towards the preparation of a monitoring system of activities carried out for ensuring gender equality.
Expenses of the City Councils:
- The expenses of the City Councils cover remunerations, telephone communications, business trips, fuel costs, vehicle repairs and representation costs.
- The largest portion of expenses of the City Councils (89%) is directed towards remunerations (GEL 4,764,000 from GEL 5,373,734 in total), solely the City Council of Akhaltsikhe spent less than a million GEL on remunerations. The rest of the City Councils spent more than a million GEL.
- A significant portion of expenses is spent on fuel costs. The City Councils spend GEL 66,000 on average on fuel costs. Five City Councils spent GEL 295,680 on fuel in 2020, among them, the City Council of Kutaisi spent the most - GEL 98,129.
Exercise of Oversight Function:
- Members of a City Council should be more actively involved in oversight activities. In particular, they should use control mechanisms more often and should supervise the process of public procurements and large infrastructure projects effectively;
- The standing commissions of a City Council should be actively involved in the process of oversight of the activities of the executive bodies;
- The City Council should actively and conscientiously reveal cases of conflict of interest, incompatibility with office, and violations of the Rules of Procedure of the City Council and of ethical norms in the municipality;
- The City Councils should exercise their right to invite an independent auditor;
- It is important that the City Councils take care of their internal audit’s functions and authorities in order to raise the audit and monitoring departments’ accountability towards the City Council. The documents prepared by these departments should be available for public access, they should be uploaded at the official web-sites of the local self-government bodies.
Sessions of a City Council:
- The City Councils should improve the organizational part of its activities, reduce the number of extraordinary sessions as such sessions obstruct the involvement of citizens, mobilization of the interest groups, opportunity to prepare the issues to be heard and transparency of a representative body.
- Attendance of members of the City Council at the sessions of the Council and its commissions should be significantly improved. We believe that every member of a City Council should take responsibility and attend the sessions. In addition, members of a City Council should be subjected to corresponding sanctions in the event of missing a session without a valid reason. A City Council should define the absences with and without a valid reason in the Rules of Procedure of the City Council;
- Members of the City Council should actively exercise their right to deliver a speech at the sessions of the City Council and Commissions, submit their thoughts on the issues under discussion, and provide the information on specific needs of citizens to the City Council as well as to the City Hall;
- Filling out asset declarations by officials is an important mechanism for ensuring transparency and accountability. For this reason, it is necessary that officials fill out declarations completely and without any shortcomings, they should indicate revenues received from their enterprises and leave their managing positions in accordance with the law. Filling out declarations incompletely also contains risks of corruption.
Activities of Factions:
- It is important for the activities of factions to be beneficial for the relevant self-government. Factions should get actively involved in the process of considering and deciding on issues that fall under the powers of the City Council, study / control the activities of the City Hall and municipal legal entities; submit initiatives to the City Council; get actively involved in the budgeting process; etc. Factions increase citizens’ involvement in self-government, as well as support local initiatives and advocate for citizens’ needs and problems. Therefore, we call upon the factions to use these instruments actively.
Expenditures of a City Council:
- It is important that the expenses incurred by the City Council to be in compliance with the exercise of the powers assigned to the Council by law;
- A City Council should exercise strict control on the administrative expenditures of both the representative body, in particular, and the municipality, in general, and be oriented on efficient spending of financial resources.
- It is important that the information about sessions of the City Councils are fully uploaded on the web-sites of the City Councils and in timely manner;
- The official web-sites of the City Councils should contain information on the activities of the members of representative bodies. This will improve accountability of members of the City Councils and proactively inform voters;
- The Local Self-Government Code of Georgia defines a lower threshold of numbers of voters required for a petition - 1%, however, it allows the City Councils to decrease the number of signatures of a petition. The City Councils of Batumi and Zugdidi decreased this threshold to 0.5%. Other City Councils should also reduce the lower threshold of the number of signatures required for petitions and determine 0,3% or 0,5% instead of 1%, that will make the procedure of preparation of petition easier for interested individuals.
Gender Equality Council:
- It is necessary that the gender equality councils actively engage their tasks, fulfill every obligation, make practical steps to ensure gender equality in municipal bodies and to increase women representation.