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Watchdog on ‘Unprecedented’ Hike in State Spending Ahead of Polls
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 29 Mar.'10 / 19:48

There has been “an unprecedented increase” in the funding of local self-government bodies ahead of the May local elections, Transparency International-Georgia said in a report.

The report, Use of Administrative Recourses for Election Campaign, released on March 29 says that there has been “a considerable increase” in the number of employees in the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office and in the regional administrative bodies ahead of the elections.

The report says that the trend is at odds with the president’s proposed policy of “tightening the belt” and reducing bureaucracy.

The number of the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office employees increased by 410, while GEL 5.5 million was added to the salary fund.

“Those who oppose this approach have suggested that state money is being used to employ the people who are to participate in the ruling party’s election campaign,” the report says

2010 state budget has allocated GEL 836.9 million for transfers to local self-government entities, which is 34% more than in 2009.  The government has also doubled the funding for the Rural Aid Program up to GEL 40 million this year.

“Self-government entities have never received such large allocations before,” according to the report.

It says that the transfer allocated to the city of Tbilisi from the state budget, as well as the capital city’s budget itself “is also of unprecedented size” – GEL 323 million and GEL 570.8 million, respectively.

The report says that although pension policy is not part of the local self-government, the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office is sponsoring a GEL 10 pension raise for those pensioners who reside in the capital city. This increase in monthly pension, which is in force since March 1, 2010, does not apply to those pensioners living outside Tbilisi – the approach described by the report as “discriminatory”.

The Mayor’s Office is also sponsoring a GEL 4 million program, envisaging issuing of medication vouchers worth GEL 25 to pensioners in the capital city.

“Similar programmes were implemented before the 2006 local elections and the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections but not in 2007 or 2009 when no election was held,” the report says.

In another program worth GEL 3.5 million, sponsored by the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office, 167,271 pensioners from the capital city are to receive personal transport cards, enabling them to use the public transport, metro and bus, at a reduced fare.

The report says that introduction of this type of aid programs for all pensioners contradicts the social security reform implemented by the government in 2006, which envisaged distribution of aid based on how poor any given family was and not on such criterion as belonging of an individual to a certain category, such as pensioners.

“This system of social aid is still in place and its core principle of providing support according to needs rather than categories has a lot of supporters both inside and outside the government. However, the fact that the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office is implementing social programmes that are not compliant with the state system of social aid has not drawn any criticism from the central government so far,” the report reads.

Incumbent Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, has not yet been named by the ruling party as its candidate for reelection. His opponents complain that Ugulava’s activities in recent month are part of his undeclared election campaign with use of administrative resources.  Lawmakers from the ruling party, however, say that the mayor is doing his job of addressing Tbilisites needs.

Deadline for nominating candidates expires on April 30.

The law does not stipulate an incumbent mayor to quit his post during the election campaign.

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