The review of a civil participation instrument on the local level in Georgia
The most important principle of civil society is a civil participation. This concept means the participation of a society in the management processes including discussions, the development of political, economical, social and other socially important programs and projects, making decisions, controlling the flow and the fulfillment of the process.
According to the one of the explanations of a civil participation it is a multilevel process between the citizens and the public authorities that serves as a development of the society and includes making decisions about the issues connected to the future development of the state. This process between the society and the public authorities flows in both directions, including the informational events for the participants, considering the opinions and advantages and choosing the best of all the suitable alternatives.
The roots of the civil participation come from the ancient Greece and the British Empire. Before the 1960s governmental processes and procedures had been created to make the “external” (public) assistance easier. Civil participation was legalized in the 1960s within Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program (Cohen & Sharpe, 1986, p.283).
According to the public attendance there are three main grades of the civil participation – direct participation, symbolic or partial participation and the absence of the participation.
In Georgia civil participation forms might be:
- Formalized – written in the Code or special state programs;
- Informal – any other practices that are held with the initiatives of different donor organizations and civil society institutions.
Formalized forms of participation
Organic Law of Georgia, Local Self-Government Code, approved by the Parliament of Georgia on 05/02/2014
Local Self-Government Code contains the special part about the civil participation practice in the local self-governmental issues (Part IV defines the participation of the citizens in the local self-governmental matters). According to this law following forms of the participation are provided: petition, general meeting of the settlement, civil advisory council, participation of the municipality assembly and its committees in the board meetings, listening to the reports of the municipality governor/mayor and assembly members.
Petition is the way for the citizens to address the local authorities. Due to the 86th article of the Local Self-Government Code no less than 1% of the registered qualified electors or general meeting of the settlement is able to present the petition. According to the several researchers the Local Self-Government Code which was valid in 2010-2015 enabled citizens to present the petitions only about the projects of regulatory acts that in fact devaluated this form of a civil participation.
Since 2015, after making changes in the article mentioned above, practically any issue arousing interest of the population can be presented as a petition, including normative acts and/or the future changes as well as any important problematic issue for the municipality. According to the Code local authorities have to response the petition in 2 months (1 month an 22 days) max after its presentation. It’s also permitted to present the petition electronically. But there are still several obstacles to thoroughly use this mechanism that in expert Abuladze’s opinion is artificially created with the rules of the authorities. In particular several procedural problems exist including the rules of filling in the forms, registering and presenting the petitions that restrains citizens from using this mechanism. Presenting the electronic petitions is on the early stage since it needs the resolution of the municipal authorities to be fulfilled. With the financial support of USAID system software was created that can be installed on any municipality website.
- General meeting of the settlement
The practice of the general meeting of the settlement was introduced in 2009 and was connected to the rural assistance state program (rural program). The main goal of this program was transferring money to the local municipalities to help the development of the villages. The rules and aims of the funding have been defined by the special resolution of the government of Georgia. According to one of the latest resolutions of the Georgian government #54 (04.02.1016) the sum given to the municipalities was only expanded after the preliminary consultations with the population. According to the decision of the parliament of Georgia consultations have to be held by the municipality director and if necessary surveys, general meeting of the settlement, public hearing and agreements about the specific expenditures have to be conducted. Despite of the manifestation of many negative sides including the facts of pressure from the municipality members during the process of making decisions, the incidents of manipulating with people and the attempts to formalize the process it was convenient and acceptable to communicate with the population while making decisions.
In 2014 with the initiative of the foundation “Open Society Georgia” the group of independent experts presented their vision about the mechanisms of civil participation. Taking into account the statutes of this vision the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia worked on the bill about strengthening civil participation instrument in local authority activities. The change was made in the Local Self-Government code in July, 2015. Due to this change civil participation new forms like general meeting of the settlement and civil advisory council (discussed below) have been added to the previously confirmed forms like petition, participating in authority board meetings, listening to the reports of the authority members. Registered voters of the settlement as well as other residents of the area are allowed to take part in the meeting. The meeting can be held if no less than 20% of the residents participate. Decisions are made based on the majority vote. Unlimited number of the meetings may be held.
To manage the business general meeting has a right to choose general meeting representative from its members. No less than 5% of the members are allowed to put their candidatures forward. In this case according to the Code the meeting has to be held at least two times a year. Municipality bodies are obliged to discuss the decisions of the general meeting, give a reasonable response about their discussions to the members or the representative of the general meeting on the set date defined in the General Administrative Code of Georgia and Local Self-Government Code. The date of the response depends on the form of the general meeting decision. If the decision is presented as a petition the reacting mechanisms of a petition are active. If the decision is presented as a recommendation municipality bodies should response in no more than 3 months.
Municipality is obliged to demonstrate all the projects for the discussion before taking them into the municipality budget. The general meeting may also discuss settlement border creation/change, privatization unit listing, territory cleaning, event-planning issues.
The experts are still indicating several problems of everyday life connected to the introduction of the mechanism – the information about the mechanism is mainly given by the NGOs while it’s the responsibility of the municipality centers. Another problem is the issue of the board meeting authorization while the meeting is only authorized if no less than 20% of the members participate.
- Civil Advisory Council
According to the information of the representatives of “Green Caucasus” the practice of a civil advisory council was initiated in Ozurgeti in 2011. Later within USAID’s “Democratic Governance Project” civil advisory council was created in 10 municipalities of Georgia. The aim of this initiative was to support the society transparency and to show the values of democracy. With the help of this civil advisory council several municipalities have been able to solve the problems of a local importance.
Since 2015 after making changes in the Local Self-government Code it’s compulsory to create a civil advisory council in every municipality. Civil advisory council is a consulting committee for the municipality director/mayor. The civil advisory council combines businessmen, civil society institutions and municipality population representatives. According to the article 86th civil advisory council must have at least 10 members.
The procedure for the selection of the members isn’t yet defined. Several municipalities use the following practice – first the information about the formation of the council is presented, than applicants apply their CVs and motivational letters after which selection process begins. Other municipalities have different options, for example municipality director addresses potential members to join the council. Putting forward the candidatures by the population is another option for forming the civil advisory court.
Municipality director/mayor is obliged to submit to the civil advisory court for a budget project, spatial-territorial planning documentation, proposals for geographical objects, normative acts, infrastructural and social projects. Other administrative powers of the civil advisory court are defined in a special document “Statute of the Civil Advisory Council” which is approved by the municipality director/mayor. Council meeting has to be held at least once in every three months.
Since this mechanism is relatively new several problems still exist. Despite of the obligations defined in the Code councils haven’t been formed in all municipalities. In several cases they have been formed only nominally. Experts remark that the functions of the civil advisory court are obscure to the municipalities and the advisors can’t see the field of their work.
- Collegial Body Meeting Publicity
According to the article 87th of the Local Self-government Code municipality assembly and assembly committee meetings are public (except for the cases defined by the Georgian legislation). Any person has the right to take part in such activities without prior announcement. The law obliges the municipalities to provide places for attending meetings or create conditions for public hearings.
Representatives of the population participating in the meeting can, with the consent of the chairman of the meeting, ask questions, make statements and give useful information. The term and form of a publication is not defined by law, but as a rule, this data is reflected in the city assembly regulations describing the meeting terms (e.g. once a month, every first Tuesday).
In practice this form of civil participation has not gained popularity either. On the one hand citizens themselves don’t show enough interest to act and on the other hand the municipality doesn’t spread the information about the time and agenda of the meeting or spreads it lately within a limited number of people. In some municipalities a permit or a pass is required to participate in the meetings.
- Public reports
According to the article 88th of the Local Self-Government Code municipality director/mayor and the members of the city assembly are obliged to organize a meeting with the voters and at least once a year (no later than November 1st) prepare and publicly report their activities and answer the questions of the voters. For their part the corresponding municipal bodies are obliged to ensure that the prepared reports are published (as a rule it’s defined in the City Assembly Regulations). According to experts (based on the relevant sources) this mechanism of accountability of the municipality and city hall officials isn’t fulfilling at the appropriate level.
Law of Georgia on the partnership of homeowners
The law is valid since 11.07.2017. According to this law the partnership of the homeowners is a voluntary union of residential and non-residential parts of the multi-dwelling building including areas used for commercial purposes.
The legislation regulates the relationships related to the management of the common property between the members of the partnership, determines the forms of the partnership between the homeowners and defines the forms of the property of the partnership members as well as the basic legal conditions for formation, activity and liquidation of the partnership. According to the law the partnership is automatically created if there is more than one owner (individual or separate legal entity) in the apartment. Establishment of partnerships is important for citizens as they are solving their own problems and are able to use external resources, namely municipal resources.
Although this law operates more than 10 years it’s practically used only for individual repair works – roofing, building repairs, replacement of elevators, etc., implemented within the municipalities co-financing programs.
The Law on Volunteerism
Volunteerism is one of the forms of a civil participation and involves voluntary activity which facilitates the development of a society as well as the enhancement of a knowledge, practical skills and forming an active citizen.
One of the most obvious examples of a voluntary activity was the mobilization of Georgian citizens to fight the disaster in Tbilisi in June, 2015.
In December 2015 the Law on Volunteerism was adopted. The adoption of the law it the result of the work of the Civil Society Institute which has conducted researches in the area of volunteerism for several years in Georgia. The law defines the concept of volunteerism as well as the rights and obligations of volunteers and host organizations. In particular, according to the paragraph #2 volunteering is a socially useful activity of a natural person using individual skills and knowledge without expecting any benefits. However for the further development of the culture of volunteerism it’s not enough to adopt the law alone. It’s necessary to create a number of mechanisms to recognize volunteerism as a form of a civil participation and become more popular.
Communication problems exist (there are citizens who are ready to volunteer but there are not enough information resources to allow the citizens to do useful job for the society). It’s necessary to calculate and evaluate volunteer activities (on the basis of quantitative and qualitative indicators) and promote their development.
In order to develop a culture of volunteerism in Georgia international organizations have implemented several projects (Helping Hand, World Vision, Caritas, etc.). The Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs of Georgia also supports the development of volunteerism. In cooperation with several NGOs it has been executing the project “Volunteer of Georgia” for the second year; the main purpose of the project is to strengthen the volunteer institution and develop a network of volunteers in the regions of Georgia. The target group of the project is youth from 17 to 25 years.