How the city councils performed in 2022: problems and recommendations
TI Georgia has evaluated the performance of the city councils of Batumi, Zugdidi, Poti, Kutaisi and Akhaltsikhe in 2022. The problems identified in all the city councils are mostly identical. In the summary overview that follows, we present the findings, problems, and recommendations. We believe that the findings and recommendations should be taken into account by the city councils elected in 2021, so that they are better able to fulfill their functions and obligations.
A city council plays an extremely important role in the exercise of local self-government – it determines the main directions of the development of the municipality, exercises control on the executive body and the activities of officials, and takes decisions on issues of local importance.
Implementation of control:
- In 2022, the city councils implemented weak oversight on the executive bodies and legal entities established by the municipalities and exercised formal control over accountable officials and individual agencies. The City Council of the Zugdidi Municipality, which has improved the supervisory function compared to the previous period, can be considered as an exception. The Zugdidi City Council is one of those representative bodies in which not a single party was able to garner a firm majority as a result of the 2021 local elections and where the majority consists of the coalition of two opposition parties – the United National Movement and Gakharia for Georgia.
- Not a single city council has revealed any kind of misconduct, conflict of interest, or incompatibility of duties in the activities of mayors, including in the public procurement process. Studies published by TI Georgia, in which we identified a number of instances of alleged corrupt deals in the public procurement process, conflict of interest, and incompatibility of duties, show a contrary picture. This confirms that in the majority of city councils, there is no political will and/or competence to strengthen the prevention of corruption.
- The city councils are not trying to strengthen the internal audit units in the municipalities and to increase their functions and responsibility. Internal audit units can study all the processes under way in the system of a city hall, exercise control on activities, and reveal facts of incompatibility of duties and conflict of interest in the public procurement process, although the internal audit units, as a rule, exercise formal control.
- The city councils of the municipalities studied by TI Georgia have also failed to invite an independent auditor, which the Local Self-Government Code allows them to do once a year.
Sessions and activities of city councils and involvement of members in city councils’ activities:
- In 2022, compared to the previous years, the city councils improved the organizational aspect of their work – the number of regular sessions exceeds the number of extraordinary sessions. The only exception is the Zugdidi City Council, where 19 of 28 sessions were extraordinary. And the Batumi City Council is the only one which has not held an extraordinary session at all.
- The city councils of Batumi, Poti, Zugdidi, Kutaisi and Akhaltsikhe adopted 245 resolutions in total in 2022. The authors/initiators of 185 resolutions (75%) were the mayors of corresponding municipalities and those of 60 resolutions were city councils.
- It is a challenge for the city councils that their members miss the sessions without a valid reason.
- Similarly to previous city councils, in 2022, too, a considerable part of city council members have not given a speech or presented a report at the council sessions, which is a considerable challenge.
Activities of factions:
- Unlike previous city councils, in the city councils elected in 2021, the number of factions has decreased, although the number of officials of factions has increased, because legislative changes made it possible to elect one deputy chairperson for each three members of a faction. All the city councils used this possibility for their benefit.
- All the factions at the city councils of Zugdidi and Batumi had an initiative in 2022. Only one of the three factions at the Poti City Council – Poti for Georgia – didn’t have an initiative. None of the three factions at the Akhaltsikhe City Council had an initiative. Two factions at the Kutaisi City Council didn’t submit a written initiative.
- Against the background of the minimum work carried out by the factions, the expenditures incurred by the municipalities on their functioning are inadequately high and include the expenses on remuneration, telephone communications, business trips, and fuel; for example, in 2022, GEL 416,286 was spent on the activities of 3 factions at the Poti City Council, while the Akhaltsikhe City Council spent GEL 311,586 on the functioning of 3 factions.
Accountability and citizens’ involvement:
- As a rule, the mayors of the municipalities present at least the annual report before the city council, although, similarly to 2020, the Mayor of Kutaisi also failed to submit a report to the City Council in 2022; the reply of the Batumi City Council to the questions asked about the Council’s use of the mechanisms of control is incomplete and fragmentary. The public information provided by the representative body does not show how many times they invited the City Hall officials to the City Council for submitting activity reports. The City Council notes that this had a “systemic character”.
- The Chairperson of the Batumi City Council has not submitted his 2022 activity report. Thirty-one of 39 members of the Akhaltsikhe City Council have submitted their activity reports for 2022.
- The municipal officials fill out the asset declarations with shortcomings. In total, 18 officials in 5 city councils have filled out their declarations with shortcomings, with the highest number of such cases in Akhaltsikhe – 9 officials.
- The level of citizens’ involvement in the city councils’ activities was low in 2022, with the exception of the Zugdidi City Council, where 5 petitions were considered in 2022 and both program and thematic examination of the budget was also conducted which involved several stages; in addition, on November 24, 2022, the Zugdidi City Council held its first open session, where constituents and representatives of various organizations gave talks.
- In 2022, a total of 7 petitions were registered at the 5 city councils studied. Of these, 5 petitions were registered at the Zugdidi City Council and a single petition – at the city councils of Batumi and Akhaltsikhe; no petitions were registered at the city councils of Kutaisi and Poti in 2022.
Activities of gender equality councils:
- The gender equality councils set up at the city councils were passive similarly to previous years. The exception is the Gender Equality Council at the Kutaisi City Council, which conducts an analysis of draft legal acts within the limits of its competence, in spite of the fact that, according to the statute, this is not within its powers; at the Zugdidi City Council, the Gender Equality Council submitted recommendations on the draft budget of 2023, and also condemned the fact of violation of the rules of ethics in relation to a woman by a member of the City Council.
Expenditures of city councils:
- In 2022, the total expenditures of the 5 city councils increased by 37% (by more than GEL 2 million) compared to 2020. The expenditures of the city councils include the expenses incurred on remuneration, telephone communications, business trips and repair of vehicles, as well as representation expenses.
- The main part (89%) of the expenditures of the city councils is the remuneration and reimbursement of expenses incurred on members of the city councils (GEL 6,817,586 from of GEL 7,591,630 in total).
- In 2022, the expenses on fuel also rose and reached GEL 462,457 in total in the five city councils. In 2020, GEL 295,680 had been spent on fuel.
Implementation of control:
- Members of the city councils should get involved more actively in the supervisory activities; in particular, they should exercise control on the public procurement process and large infrastructure projects more frequently and effectively;
- The standing commissions of the city councils should get actively involved in the oversight over activities of executive bodies;
- The city councils should work actively and in good faith to reveal facts of conflict of interest and incompatibility of duties, as well as violations of the city councils’ rules of procedure and norms of ethics, in the municipality;
- The city councils should use their powers to invite an independent auditor;
- It is important that the city councils take care of improving the functions and powers of the internal audit units, so that the internal audit and monitoring units have more accountability to the city council. Documents prepared by these units should become publicly available for everyone.
Sessions of city councils:
- The city councils should improve the organizational aspect of their work and decrease the number of extraordinary sessions, in order to improve the quality of mobilization of interest groups and increase citizens’ involvement, the possibility of preparation of issues to be considered at a session, and transparency of the representative body.
- The quality of attendance of city council members at the sessions of the city council and its commissions should improve tangibly. We believe that all members of the city councils should exercise responsibility in their activities, attend city council sessions and not miss them without a valid reason. It is important that the city councils determine the valid and invalid reasons for absence from sessions in the rules of procedure;
- It is necessary that city council members make active use of the right to give a speech at the sessions of the city council and its commissions, present their opinions on the issues under consideration, and provide the city council and the executive body with information on the specific needs of citizens;
- The asset declarations of public officials are an important mechanism for transparency and accountability. It’s necessary that officials fill out the declaration in full, include their and their family members’ property and shares in companies, indicate the revenue received from enterprises and resign from the management positions of companies as required by law. Filling out the declarations incompletely contains a risk of corruption.
Activities of factions:
- It’s important that factions of the city councils get actively involved in the consideration and decision-making on issues within the competence of the city council; study/exercise control on the activities of the city hall or municipal legal entities; submit initiatives to the city council; get actively involved in the budgeting process; etc. Factions increase citizens’ involvement in self-government to a considerable degree and support local initiatives, as well as advocacy of citizens’ needs and problems. Therefore, we call upon the factions to use these instruments actively.
Expenditures of city councils:
- It’s important that the effectiveness of a city council’s work increase in proportion with the expenditures of the city council;
- The city councils should exercise strict control on the administrative expenditures of both the representative body and the municipality in general and be oriented to effective spending of financial resources.
Involvement of the public:
- It is important that full information on the sessions of the city councils be posted on the city councils’ websites in a timely manner;
- The official website of a city council should contain information about the activities of members of the representative body. This is going to promote the accountability of city council members and proactively provide information to constituents;
- The Local Self-Government Code sets the lower limit of signatories to a petition – 1% of the constituents of the municipality, although it allows city councils to decrease the number of those who submit the petition. The city councils of Zugdidi and Batumi have decreased this lower limit to 0.5%. We believe that other city councils should also set a lower limit of 0.3% or 0.5% instead of 1%, which will simplify the procedure of preparation of a petition for interested persons.
Gender equality councils:
- It’s necessary that the councils start working actively to fulfill their obligations and take effective steps in order to ensure gender equality and higher representation of women in municipal bodies.