Transparency International Georgia, a local watchdog, has raised concerns over draft amendments that would increase the number of officials – Deputy Sakrebulo Chairs and Deputy Faction Chairs – in municipality councils (Sakrebulos).
The amendments, passed with the first hearing on November 16, would allow increasing the number of Deputy Sakrebulo Chairs to three in all municipalities. Currently, municipalities with over 100,000 residents can have two Deputy Sakrebulo Chairs, while smaller municipality Sakrebulos can have one. The number is not capped in Tbilisi, the capital. There are in total 73 deputy chairs in 64 Sakrebulos across the country (excluding Russian-occupied municipalities), their number would reach 195 if the initiative is accepted.
The watchdog said together with planned salary hikes in municipalities by 2022, the new appointments – and accompanying expenses, among others, on their salary, fuel, and phone bills – “will place an even heavier burden on scarce local budgetary resources.”
The CSO argued that the goal of the changes is to provide the ruling Georgian Dream Sakrebulo elects with official positions and bankroll them through state finances.
“This will further worsen the quality of local democracy and conditions of political competition in the country’s regions, especially considering that the ruling party already has far more resources available to it than the opposition.”
Citing its own research, TI Georgia stated there is “little guarantee,” that the change will support Sakrebulo’s work or their oversight of the executive branch.
Besides, the changes would allow a Sakrebulo Faction Chair, already having one deputy, to have additional deputies for every five faction members. Finally, each party would be allowed to form only a single faction in the Sakrebulo.
The watchdog also pointed that the Deputy Factions Chairs are not obliged to fill out asset declarations as is the case with all the other officials, making it harder to detect and prevent cases of conflicts of interest.