The number of officials of city councils should not be increased - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

The number of officials of city councils should not be increased

19 November, 2021

The Parliament of Georgia is considering, in an accelerated manner, a legislative initiative on amendments to the Local Self-Government Code, which increases the number of officials in city councils. In particular:

  • The chairpersons of city councils will have three deputies, including the first deputy. As of today, the chairpersons of city councils have one deputy, and in municipalities with more than 100,000 constituents, they may have two deputies. The chairperson of the Tbilisi City Council may have the first deputy and deputies (the number is not specified).
  • The chairpersons of factions of city councils, who now have one deputy, will be entitled to have one additional deputy per every five members of the faction. According to the current wording of the law, the chairperson of a faction has one deputy, and if the faction consists of more than nine members, he/she may have one additional deputy. At the Tbilisi City Council, chairpersons of factions have one deputy, and they are entitled to have an additional one deputy per every nine members. The chairpersons of factions of the City Council of the Tbilisi Municipality may have not more than three deputies.
  • Members of a city council who were elected from one political party will not have the right to form more than one faction.

In the opinion of TI Georgia, it is incomprehensible how the increase in the number of office-holders will improve the performance of city councils and make it more effective, as is indicated in the explanatory note of the draft law.  

Increasing the number of deputy chairpersons of city councils is, first of all, going to increase budget expenditures. As of today, 64 chairpersons of city councils have 73 deputies, while this amendment is going to increase their number approximately to 195.   

Members of city councils receive remuneration and funds for telephone communication, official trips, and other expenses. Considering that the remuneration is increasing in the majority of municipalities from 2022 even without these amendments, the introduction of new positions is going to create a heavier burden on local scarce budget resources.

Considering the existing practice, there is only a minimum guarantee that the introduction of new positions will help exercise more effective control over the activities of city councils or executive bodies – the activities of city councils are not effective even in those municipalities where the chairpersons currently have two deputies. TI Georgia has studied the activities of the city councils of Kutaisi, Zugdidi, and Batumi on several occasions, and in each case the city councils exercise weak supervision on the executive body and legal entities established by the municipality. In most cases, the city councils exercise formal control over the activities of officials or individual agencies accountable to them.

The increase of the number of deputy chairpersons of city councils by only individual may only be justified if one of the two deputy chairpersons is a representative of the largest opposition political party/bloc in the city council, although the legislative initiative does not include such a condition.

As for factions, on the one hand, it is good that the procedure of creating a faction is being changed and the possibility of artificially increasing their number will be ruled out, although the increasing of the number of deputy chairpersons of factions cannot automatically improve the factions’ performance.   

The position of deputy chairperson of faction was introduced from December 2017, though the expectation that the new position would increase the effectiveness of factions didn’t come true. This was also confirmed by TI Georgia’s studies – in every city council we have studied, there are a number of factions that have not put forward a single initiative.  

It is also problematic that the deputy chairpersons of factions are public officials and receive a corresponding salary, but they no longer fill out asset declarations. The increasing number of deputy chairpersons is going to make it more difficult to identify and prevent cases of conflict of interest in city councils.

We think that the real goal of these amendments is to provide the ruling party’s active members who were elected to city councils with positions and to finance them with state funds. This is going to further deteriorate the degree of local democracy and the conditions of political competition in the country’s regions, especially at a time when the ruling party has access to far more resources that the opposition even without the amendments.

TI Georgia gives the following recommendations:  

  • the Parliament of Georgia should refuse to increase the number of deputy chairpersons of city councils;   
  • deputy chairpersons of factions of city councils should be obliged to fill in asset declarations similarly to other public officials.