Polish Institute of International Affairs
An effective decentralisation of power is a crucial factor if the state wants to have a successful democratization. On June 15, Georgians went to the polls to elect their local‐ government representatives on new rules. Although local self‐government reform has not yet addressed the crucial issue of a financial system for local authorities, it is a step in the right direction and Georgia is becoming a leader in the decentralization process among the Eastern Partnership Countries.
First step in the decentralization process. In autumn 2012, one of Georgian Dream (GD)’s campaign issues was building local democracy. Support for local government reform was achieved both from within, on the part of Georgian NGOs, and through externa l donors. In March 2013, a government decree stating the main objectives of the reform was announced. The democratisation of the system of public management and greater participation of local communities in public life were indicated as the primary objectives of the planned changes. The legislative changes introduced in recent months began the first phase of reform, which in the long run aims to decentralise the Georgian political system.
In February, parliament adopted a law on the reform of local government, and then in March new regulations were passed, concerning the electoral system (electoral thresholds, the number of members of local councils, mayors, and dismissal procedures for removing mayors). At the current stage, the reform expands the number of cities with the status of local government, where residents elect the mayor directly, to 12. Previously, only residents of Tbilisi had the opportunity to elect the mayor of the city directly. Moreover, now the Georgians could choose, in addition to the members of local councils (as it was before) the chairpersons of 59 municipalities (outside the 12 major cities). This phase of reforms focused on preparation to carry out the local elections in accordance with the new regulations, but did not consider delegation of duties and financial powers to the local government. These are essential elements of the system leading to real decentralisation. These regulations are to be introduced by the end of this year, as part of another block of changes regulating duties and powers of local governments. Continuation of the decentralisation policies will be a test of GD’s genuine reformist intentions. In the coalition, there are both supporters of the far‐reaching decentralisation of the s tate, as well as more conservative politicians, wary of too radical reforms.
Next steps. The changes were made possible thanks to the political will of the current ruling coalition. Now, however, it is important that this is supported by a good conceptual and organisational preparation of the next stage of reform. Failure to change regulations in matters of the competences and finances of local government may result in a loss of support, both from the public, and from external donors. The existing assistance of international institutions and experts from other countries was too dispersed. Better coordinated external expert help will facilitate work on new regulations and their implementation. In subsequent actions, more importance should be attached to the public debate. On the one hand, local communities should be encouraged to discuss new solutions, while on the other, the idea of self‐government must also be promoted. Communities of post‐Soviet countries are accustomed to centralism, and people believe that the only effective and decisive vote could come from the state capital. The government could become the initiator and coordinator of the campaign, with the aim of convincing society that decentralisation does not mean separatism, but is a way to increase the efficiency of public services provided by local authorities. A well‐functioning local government is also one of the conditions for the development of entrepreneurship in the country. NGOs and local public opinion leaders should be invited to promote the idea of local government. In addition to meetings and lectures, both very important in promotional activities, the public media, especially television, should be engaged.