Recommendations on the draft 2016 Zugdidi budget
On 17 November 2015, Zugdidi City Council (Sakrebulo) launched discussions on the draft 2016 budget. The income section of the budget is GEL 18,597,215, an increase of GEL 2.7 million since the previous year.
The priorities of Zugdidi City, according to the draft budget, will be:
- improvement of the investment environment and development of infrastructure;
- healthcare and welfare of the population (financial support of healthcare and social assistance programs);
- increase of availability of preschool education and improvement of qualifications of teachers in these institutions;
- development of culture, sport and tourism, and financial support of programs related to youth.
The draft budget does not provide an explanation on how these priorities have been determined. City Council representatives mentioned during the discussions of November, 17 that the priorities were established based on the experience from previous years and information presented by majoritarian MPs to the City Council. In our view, the City Council must rely on proper research when determining budget priorities; studies should be conducted before drafting of the budget is initiated and the draft should encompass to the highest extent possible the interests of all groups of the society. Otherwise, the established priorities may be irrelevant, creating risks of inappropriate and ineffective expenditure of the budget.
- The draft budget allocates GEL 5.365 million for construction, rehabilitation and exploitation of infrastructure. However, the budget appendix includes no information on specific streets to be repaired, bridges to be built or rehabilitated, and areas where outside lighting is to be fixed and maintained. In our opinion, the draft budget needs to be more specific, so that anyone examining it can have a clear understanding on projects planned and implemented by the Municipality. Without providing such details on planned activities, the 2016 budget of Zugdidi cannot be considered as a program budget.
- The draft budget allocates GEL 1.2 million to the football team Zugdidi, a 200,000 GEL increase from the previous year. The money allocated to the football team is 6.45% of the total budget. We believe the city government should cease funding of the football team, as this is not an exclusive realm of self-governance. Especially, taking into account, that is not clear how such increase in funding would impact the investment. Furthermore, if we take into account the lack of resources of the Municipality, it would be better to spend these resources on farming necessities of the population. Furthermore, it must be noted that the football club Zugdidi is not very successful in the championship of Georgia and is ranked as number 15. However, if the development of sports is a public demand, City of Zugdidi should somewhat increase investment in NNLE Sport Development Center and spend more resources on development of children. Same recommendation was made by Transparency International (TI) Georgia to now-defunct Municipality of Zugdidi in 2013, and in 2014 to the City Hall of Zugdidi. However recommendations were not taken into account in either cases.
- GEL 250,000 are allocated to 25 various cultural events, however there is no information how much money will be spent on each event, when they will be held and why there is a necessity for these events.
- One of the most important parts of the budget are healthcare and welfare programs, for which the budget allocates GEL 1.211 million, a GEL 230,000 increase from the previous year. Taking into account difficult social conditions in the country, it is very important that the Municipality spends money to help the citizens, however in our opinion, it is essential that the social assistance programs do not encompass one-time financial aid packages, but be oriented on a long term, gradual improvement of social conditions of the beneficiaries. If the budget is allocated properly, we believe, City of Zugdidi has resources to provide shelter to homeless families. For example, the Municipality of Community of Zugdidi started a project in 2015, that envisioned building of small houses for homeless. We think Zugdidi City Hall can also implement this project. Also, it is very important that medical aid centers be created in the city, where the citizens can receive first aid treatment.
Zugdidi City Municipality should try to be more active in regards to social work, goal of which could be: identification of socially vulnerable citizens and citizens with special needs, identification of victims of violence and providing appropriate assistance to them.
- GEL 43,000 was allocated to Program for Social Protection and Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons. In our opinion, this amount is not sufficient to solve the problems existing in this regard in Zugdidi. There are 450 disabled persons (that use wheelchair) in Zugdidi. There is no appropriate infrastructure for their movement. It is impossible for persons in wheelchair to enter buildings of local government, City Hall, City Council or any other administrative office. In several parts of the city wheelchair access ramps are not built according to the necessary standards. The condition is especially grave on the streets, pavements and street crossings. We think that the Zugdidi City Municipality, along with other public agencies should ensure that there is an appropriate infrastructure for persons in wheelchairs to be able to move without barriers in the city. Another necessity is a traffic light with sound signals.
- According to the draft budget, GEL 100,000 is allocated to building of a St. Mary Church. We think that Zugdidi City government should explain why such a decision was made. It is recommended that the Municipality hold consultations with Council of Religions of the Public Ombudsman, before taking decision to allocate money to a religious organization. Despite the fact that the Municipality is not required to do so, we think it would help to better protect rights of all religious groups, including religious minorities. It is also noteworthy that the Patriarchate of Georgia has sizeable financial resources and could finance such projects independently.
- GEL 1.7 million is allocated for Preschool Education Program, the money should cover food for children and salaries of the staff. Part of the preschools in Zugdidi are in grave condition. In our opinion, much more resources should be allocated to these institutions, so that they can be rehabilitated. At the same time, it is essential that the salaries of the staff and teachers increase, which currently amount to 120-150 GEL.
- The draft budget does not envision any resources for building a shelter for homeless animals. While, according to our information, for last several year homeless dogs have been killed using cruel methods in Zugdidi. TI Georgia addressed the Municipality of Zugdidi several times with a recommendation to build a shelter for homeless animals, however no steps have been taken in this regard. It is also noteworthy, that the Chairman of the Zugdidi City Council, Merab Kvaraia was actively advocating the idea of a shelter for homeless animals and was promising citizens that such shelter would be built in near future.
- After the division of Zugdidi in two separate municipalities, the municipal buses became property of the Municipality of Community of Zugdidi. In our opinion, City of Zugdidi should purchase its own municipal transport and ensure that the whole city is provided with public transportation.
- It is also crucial that the program budget of City of Zugdidi, as an alternative to a traditional structural budget, be goal-oriented already on the planning stage.
- Every program of the budget should have quantitative and qualitative indicators for measuring the final results, and for sub-programs also for midterm results.
- At the planning stage of the budget, structural entities and public officials for implementation of each program and sub-program must be defined. This will allow the Municipality to measure results at the end of the year, and if need arises, appropriate officials be held accountable.
We believe that if these recommendations are followed, the 2016 Zugdidi City budget will be focused on citizen interests. In our opinion, social and infrastructural problems represent the most crucial needs of the local population, therefore, the local government should concentrate more on these issues. The budget should be based on principles of focusing on the most challenging issues and proportionality. Therefore, social and infrastructural issues should be the main priorities of Zugdidi City government.