Clashes, Detentions as Outgoing Councils Approve Batumi, Zugdidi Budgets

Outgoing Georgian Dream majorities of Batumi and Zugdidi local councils adopted 2022 municipal budgets amid the opposition’s vocal objections and clashes between activists and police. Interior Ministry said police detained four persons in Batumi and two others in Zugdidi.

The opposition is angered that the outgoing members fast-tracked the budgetary process to conclude before the newly elected compositions take over on December 3. In both Batumi and Zugdidi, as well as five other municipality councils the ruling party failed to secure the majority in 2021 polls, and the opposition argues the newly-elected members should have a say in the budgetary process.

Opposition politicians attempted to disrupt the hearings for adopting the budget in both Batumi and Zugdidi.

During the session in Batumi, UNM member Mirdat Kadamadze sprayed a smelly liquid into the hall, forcing the Sakrebulo to declare a temporary break. Meanwhile, in Zugdidi, UNM members led by MP Ana Tsitlidze tried to hinder the session with whistles and chants.

Police removed the opposition politicians from the sessions in both cities, paving the way for the outgoing Georgian Dream councilors to vote in the budgets.

But the protests continued outside, with media footage showing protesters in Batumi and Zugdidi involved in verbal altercations with the police, and officers detaining several persons during minor scuffles.

Interior Ministry confirmed that all six persons were detained on administrative offenses, for failing to comply with police orders.

Besides the local councils of Batumi and Zugdidi, contested Sakrebulos of Ckhorotsku, Rustavi, Senaki and Martvili also adopted their budgets today. The six municipalities have elected mayors from the Georgian Dream.

Watchdogs slam the process

Head of Young Lawyers’ Association of Georgia, Nika Simoniashvili assessed the decision to adopt the budgets in the contested councils as “disrespectful toward the voters.”

He pointed out that although the Georgian legislation allowed in this case either the outgoing or the incoming Sakrebulo compositions to adopt the budget, it “was important for the new Sakrebulos to review the next year’s budgets… and supervise the Mayor’s activities.”

He highlighted that an issue also lies with the Self-Government Code, arguing that by allowing both, either the outgoing or the new members to endorse the budget, the legislation “leaves the issue open, leading to what happened today.”

The GYLA Head also pointed out the Central Election Commission could have called new compositions of the Sakrebulos any time within a month of November 13, when it summarized the polls. According to Simonishvili, the CEC ordering the new convocations to take over on December 3, after the budgets will be approved “also raises doubts.”

Simonishvili also argued the Georgian Dream “was afraid” the new Sakrebulos may not have approved the budgets, which would have ultimately led to snap mayoral elections. But now it took away “this lever from the opposition,” he added.

Zviad Koridze of Transparency International (TI) Georgia clarified with that if the new compositions had failed to adopt the municipal budget, the Georgian Dream mayors would have had to reach a try to reach consensus with the opposition and push through the document until the end of the first quarter of 2022, to avoid snap mayoral and municipal polls.

“This is a live process, this is the charm of local democracy,” Koridze highlighted, but stressed that the GD instead chose to avoid the scenario over a fear of the snap elections.

Albeit noting that the law allows the outgoing Sakrebulo members to adopt the budget, Koridze said the GD contravened previous practice in the country, when newly-elected members used to endorse the legislation. He said this is not a “legal matter but a political one.”

“Today the governing power is trying to practically kill the local democratic process,” Koridze asserted.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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