The Need for a Georgian Territorial Regime

Since the first declaration of independence of the Republic of Georgia, various opinions were formed regarding the Georgian territorial arrangement. Finally, however, the scale tipped in the favor of a unitary state. I will not mention the principles established by the Constitution in 1921, because I believe that the form of territorial arrangement regulated by the Constitution in 1995 is more relevant to the here-and-now. We should focus not only on the main, constitutionally organized, territorial arrangement, but on the distribution of powers on the sub-national level among the administrative units inside the country; their borders and the number of residents living within those borders.

When we examine the Constitution of a State, we find the sign defining its form of territorial arrangement already written into the main regulations. For example, the second article of the Spanish Constitution states that the Constitution is based on the indivisible unity of the Spanish nation, while the Constitution of Portugal directly uses the word ‘unitarism’.

None of the specific forms of territorial arrangement are mentioned directly in the Georgian Constitution, but the first paragraph of the first article reads that Georgia is an independent, unified and indivisible State. This suggests its direct support of ‘Unitarian State.’ Today, Georgia is considered a unitary State, despite the significantly decentralized autonomous republics of Adjara and Abkhazia. Paragraph 3 of Article 2 states that the territorial arrangement is determined after the jurisdiction is fully restored on the whole territory of the country.

In my opinion, this is the legislator avoiding taking care of judicially/legally regulating a territorial arrangement that would be appropriate and tailored to the country. Such an arrangement hinders the stable development of the country- for two decades the State has been unable to formulate exactly what its form of territorial and legal arrangement is. This approach has a negative effect on the economic development of the regions and nobody seems to care to change it- the Constitution indirectly implies that it is not necessary to think about this until the territorial integrity of the country is fully restored.

In my opinion, one way to restore territorial integrity, which is flexible and necessary, is precisely a timely move to legally organize the above-mentioned matter. I believe that on the one hand we should agree to/accept the decentralization characterizing federalism, but, on the other hand, I recognize that such an approach might result in inclination towards secession. Therefore, thinking about federalism is quite risky. Thus, we should support a unitary, relatively decentralized, or completely decentralized State. The fact that democratic implementation of these two is possible has been proved by enough precedents in the modern era. For example, the representative body of Great Britain gave permission to Scotland and Northern Ireland to publish primary and secondary legislation, while the Faroe Islands of Denmark have their own representatives in the international arena, which, as a rule, is unacceptable for autonomous entities. Therefore, establishing democratic regimes under unitarism is quite possible and does not mean a Francoistic strict refusal on transferal of rights.

Moreover, the distribution of regions and municipalities within the country is an even more complicated issue. Before moving to an argumentative discussion, we should describe the current situation... there are three levels of territorial governance in Georgia– regions, municipalities and administrative bodies. There are nine regions and 71 self-governing units in the country, of which 12 are self-governing cities while the remainder are self-governing communities. These self-governing communities are further divided into administrative units. It is difficult to say the exact number, but each community consists of about 10-15 administrative units, where a unilaterally appointed representative is sent from the municipality.

It is not hard to guess how many units local government is divided into in Georgia, and it is also clear that splitting the government to such an extent creates significant bureaucratic difficulties. This is still nothing in comparison to the most important thing that is harming people, which is unreasonably high remuneration issued to officials. After examining the public information provided by each municipality, I found the following:

According to the statistics, just to finance the above stated units, the regional budget is to allocate GEL 150 million in 2016. For a country with an economy such as Georgia’s, this amount is more than inappropriate. Moreover, an even more striking paradox exits, which I came across in a couple of municipalities. For example, the budget of Oni Municipality, is only 3,225.100 GEL. Just 107 people are employed in its representational and executive bodies and the expenses for the representational and executive bodies of the municipality takes 50.6% of the total budget, or 1,633.100 GEL. This means that serving and paying salaries to 107 people uses up 50.6% of all the funds and only the remainder, the lesser 49.4%, is used for the around 8,000 people living there. This is nothing other than an embarrassment for the Georgian territorial model and needs to be rethought urgently. About the same situation can be found in the Lentekhi Municipality, which, together with the above mentioned Oni, should not be on the list of independent municipalities based on the number of citizens living there.

Now let’s discuss the existing trend according to the population. The most recent census for the municipalities was taken in 2002. Taking into consideration that the regions are characterized with a decrease in population, we can assume that today, in comparison to the data of 2002, the population there is the same, if not declined. The old statistics suggests that there are about 46,116 people in each municipality. If we compare this to the Western European data, it is quite close to the norm, though there are countries with a different approach. For example, in Great Britain (where there is a three level system of governance), according to the reforms of 2011, the number of local territorial units has decreased from 434 to 406 and, therefore, the average number of inhabitants in each of the units is about 152,685.

Countries within the European Union have been decreasing the number of territorial units of late. For example, in Greece (with a system of two level territorial governance), the number of municipalities decreased from 1034 to 325 in 2011. The example of Latvia is also interesting (a one-level territorial regime), where, following reforms, the number of territorial units decreased from 527 to 191 and the population increased in each administrative body from 4345 to 18,828. Further, in Germany, where there is a three level territorial regime, the amount of municipalities in one of the federal lands, Saxony, has decreased from 840 to 219 units.

Such tendencies would not take place in countries with a democratic regime unless there was a real necessity to do so. A large number of territorial bodies creates a strictly bureaucratic regime and makes it more complicated for the Governor to carry out their duties. Further, I find it unacceptable that the Governor of a municipality in Georgia is currently able to unilaterally appoint a trustee in a territorial body, as it makes that Governor unaccountable to the population and therefore reducing the effectiveness of the work done.

It is vitally important to significantly decrease the number of administrative bodies that exist in Georgia, to establish new borders and to rethink the authority/power of each remaining administrative body.

Today, we are dealing with a wave of reforms on the expansion of municipalities. Large municipalities have more opportunities for economic development. Why? Because the larger the municipality, the more democratic the internal processes, particularly, the more voters that take part in the elections of the local government- meaning that the governing bodies have more legitimacy.

Giorgi Labadze is a second year student at Tbilisi State University in the Faculty of Law. He hopes to bring to light those issues most urgently in need of judicial change.

Giorgi Labadze

21 April 2016 21:10