Strasbourg, 19-21 March 2013
18 March 2013
Fact-finding mission to Georgia (27-28 February 2013)
Rapporteurs: Nigel MERMAGEN, United Kingdom (L, ILDG)1
Helena PIHLAJASAARI, Finland (R, SOC)
Document adopted by the Bureau and submitted for information to the Congress
on 18 March 2013
1. In accordance with Article 2 of Statutory Resolution CM/Res (2011)2 of the Committee of Ministers, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (hereafter "the Congress") regularly prepares reports on the state of local and regional democracy in the member states and candidate countries.
2. Georgia joined the Council of Europe on 27 April 1999, signed the European Charter for Local Self-Government (ETS 122, hereafter "the Charter") on 26 October 2004 and ratified it on 8 December 2004 with entry into force on 1 April 2005.
3. The situation of local and regional democracy in Georgia has already been the subject of a report in 2004 and a new report will be submitted to the plenary session of the Congress in March 2013.
4. On 6 and 29 November 2012, the Congress’ attention was drawn by the President of the National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia (NALAG) to events in Georgia where their members were “facing pressure from the representatives of the coalition Georgian Dream”. They also reported that a series of incidents involving violence had occurred following the October 2012 parliamentary elections, in various towns such as Marneuli, Poti, Tetriskaro, and Tsalka where confrontation had “turned into physical insult between protesters and members of the parliamentary minority”. The media reported on allegations that pressure was being put on opposition members in local government and their administrative staff to either resign their posts or change their party affiliation.
5. In accordance with Articles 2 and 10 of Congress Resolution 307 (2010) Revised, the Congress Bureau decided on 3 December 2012, to send a fact-finding delegation to investigate these allegations, to gather information in order to have more complete and updated information about the situation before the March session when the report on local and regional democracy in Georgia will be discussed, and to evaluate whether the situation presented any violations of the articles of the European Charter for Local Self-Government which Georgia had ratified.
6. The Rapporteurs on local and regional democracy in Georgia, namely Mr Nigel MERMAGEN from United Kingdom (L, ILDG) and Ms Helena PIHLAJASAARI from Finland (R, SOC) visited Georgia on 27 and 28 February, and met with a number of interlocutors to gather information (see attached visit programme for details). They were received by the President of the Republic, Mr Mikheil SAAKASHVILI, the Prime Minister Mr Bidzina IVANISHVILI, the President of the Parliament Mr David USUPASHVILI, and by the Deputy Minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure, Mr Tengiz SHERGELASHVILI. They also met the Mayor of Tbilisi, Mr Georgi UGULAVA and the Chair and Deputy Chairs of the Parliamentary Committee concerning Local Government, Mr Erekli TRIPOLISKI, Mr George ZHORZHOLIANI and Mr George TEVDORADZE respectively.
7. There were also meetings with the Georgian delegation to the Congress, with members of NALAG and with the Heads of Council from Abasha, Batumi, Sackhere, Akhmeta and Gori municipalities as well as with members of the Tbilisi City Assembly, belonging to different political groups, including both ruling coalition and opposition parties, who provided eye witness testimonies of the events that occurred in their municipalities.
8. The Rapporteurs wish to thank the Georgian authorities for their cooperation and assistance in organising the visit and for the information they provided. The delegation appreciated the availability and readiness of their interlocutors for an open dialogue with the Congress.
9. During these meetings, the Rapporteurs focused on the facts related to the reported incidents involving attacks on local authorities, the allegations of pressure on local authority members who resigned, and the investigations led by the financial police or the public prosecutor’s office in relation to local officials.
II. FACTS AND CONCLUSIONS
10. The Rapporteurs draw the Congress’ attention to the following information some of which may be an issue under the Charter:
11. After the October 2012 parliamentary elections, assessed positively by international observers from the OSCE/ODIHR, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament, the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition took over government from the United National Movement (UNM).
12. Mr Bidzina IVANISHVILI, leader of the GD which won the elections with approximately 55% of the votes, became Prime Minister. This gave rise to a “cohabitation” situation for the first time in the history of Georgia, as President SAAKASHVILI, leader of the UNM, remained in power.
13. Soon after this change of power at national level, incidents were recorded by the media involving protests and attacks against former ruling party members in local authorities where the police remained passive.
14. These incidents included picketing by activists in front of municipal administrative buildings, blocking and paralysing administration in 8 municipalities, where protesters called on officials to resign, and in one case, Martvili, where the blockage lasted 28 days, of some 200 activists entering the mayor’s office and throwing his chair out of the window.
15. The Minister of the Interior intervened after the Martvili incidents to make it clear that the police would intervene in such incidents in the future.
16. The Chair of the municipal council in 19 municipalities, and the Head of the executive (Gamgebeli) in 31 municipalities resigned.
17. The resigned heads of the executive (Gamgebelis) and heads of council were replaced by members of the GD; this was essentially achieved through the council members changing their political affiliation and then electing a new head of council who then appointed a new head of the executive (Gamgebeli), who in turn was responsible for appointing the administrative staff; however in others, for example in Tsalka municipality, the head of the executive (Gamgebeli) accepted to resign after five weeks of blockage, a descent from the financial police, and an impeachment procedure which failed.
18. Although some such changes may have taken place under pressure, particularly through the investigations of the financial police and the public prosecutor’s office, some were apparently voluntary.
19. It appears that, at the same time, the government launched a series of financial and judicial procedures against local authorities on grounds of corruption, and the financial police started investigations in 34 municipalities.
20. The Mayor of Tbilisi was charged with abuse of power for using public funds to finance his political party and provide fictitious employment contracts to his party members.
21. According to the testimonies heard, UNM members of Tbilisi City Council, where they still constitute the majority, were often summoned on Fridays, at the time of their council meeting, to the Public Prosecutor’s office to testify, which obstructed the establishment of a quorum at their meetings.
22. In his declaration at the “100 days of Government and Future Plans” conference held on 5 February 2013, the Prime Minister said that his “… view from the very beginning was not to interfere [in local government affairs] and let the old Gamgebelis continue their work. However, I was shortly persuaded to take a different course of action, because otherwise the situation would have got worse”.
23. In the Rapporteurs’ opinion, these incidents and the attitude of the authorities could have been construed as sanctioning an atmosphere of impunity to prevail, encouraging activists to launch their actions, even though the government may not have directly instigated such events.
24. They also conclude that, at all levels, from local activists to the top layers of power, national election results seem to have been expected to influence and change the local government representative structure, automatically aligning it with the political landscape of the national level. This has been explained to the rapporteurs by various interlocutors as being the result of a certain political culture inherited from an era when political party power equaled State power. According to some interlocutors, the UNM perpetuated this heritage.
Consequences with reference to the relevant provisions of the Charter
25. Whatever may have been the reasons for the prevalence of such a political culture, the Rapporteurs are of the opinion that local democracy should function unhindered and the spirit of the Charter as laid down in its Preamble, notably its last paragraph, should be respected:
“Asserting that this entails the existence of local authorities endowed with democratically constituted decision-making bodies and possessing a wide degree of autonomy with regard to their responsibilities, the ways and means by which those responsibilities are exercised and the resources required for their fulfillment”;
26. In the same spirit, the Rapporteurs consider that in the light of the above-mentioned facts, the application of Article 3 is brought into question. Article 3 states:
“Local self-government denotes the right and the ability of local authorities, within the limits of the law, to regulate and manage a substantial share of public affairs under their own responsibility and in the interests of the local population.
This right shall be exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot on the basis of direct, equal, universal suffrage, and which may possess executive organs responsible to them. This provision shall in no way affect recourse to assemblies of citizens, referendums or any other form of direct citizen participation where it is permitted by statute.”
The Rapporteurs, based on the Explanatory Report of the Charter, consider that, the delayed reaction on the part of central authorities to take adequate measures may be considered as a de facto obstruction of the elected representatives’ ability to manage their part of public affairs, under their own responsibility, as democratically constituted authorities. The Rapporteurs call for compliance with this provision of the Charter, which lays down the “concept of local self-government”.
27. Article 7 para. 1 of the Charter states:
“The conditions of office of local elected representatives shall provide for free exercise of their functions.”
The Rapporteurs consider that, during the events mentioned above, elected representatives have not been able to exercise their functions freely and remind the Government that the principle guaranteed by the Charter in this respect, referring to “conditions under which responsibilities at local level are exercised” should be observed.
28. Article 6 of the Charter states that:
“Without prejudice to more general statutory provisions, local authorities shall be able to determine their own internal administrative structures in order to adapt them to local needs and ensure effective management.
The conditions of service of local government employees shall be such as to permit the recruitment of high-quality staff on the basis of merit and competence; to this end adequate training opportunities, remuneration and career prospects shall be provided.”
During the visit the delegation was informed of various cases where political pressure was put on local administrative staff who then resigned their posts. According to the Rapporteurs, this situation must be brought into conformity with Article 6, so that local authorities have the right to determine their own internal administrative structures.
29. The Rapporteurs believe that the above points have raised questions for concern in relation to the Charter, which Georgia has ratified.
30. The delegation is also of the opinion that all the political authorities they met during the visit, and particularly the representatives of the Government and the Prime Minister himself, have shown their awareness of this issue. The Rapporteurs have taken note that the Government is engaging in a comprehensive and far reaching local government reform, presently at an initial consultation stage, which could be a positive development for local authorities in Georgia.
31. The Rapporteurs will ask the Bureau of the Congress to take the present report into consideration, and propose a global amendment to their recommendation on local and regional democracy [CGMON(23)1] to the Congress during its plenary session in order to draw attention to a basic principle of local democracy, according to which elected representatives remain in post regardless of changes brought about by elections in different instances of governance, be it local, regional, legislative or presidential.
32. The Rapporteurs welcome the Prime Minister’s intention to follow up on consultation and dialogue with NALAG, and bearing in mind the good will be shown by all the parties during the fact finding visit, the Congress is ready and open to further political dialogue with all Congress partners in Georgia to help build a consensus.