IDFI’s Online Conference on Local Self-Government: Major Takeaways and Outcomes

News | FIGHTING CORRUPTION | Article 18 December 2020

On December 18, IDFI held an online conference – Strengthening Good Governance Principles at the Local Level. The conference aimed at exploring challenges, planned reforms, needed interventions, and innovative approaches at the local level in terms of transparency, quality of governance, delivery of municipal services, and citizen participation. To this end, the event brought together organizations, experts, donor community working on local self-government, as well as representatives of both local and central governments to foster discussion on the following issues: the local self-government reform, developing transparency and accountability at the local level, promoting citizen participation and enhancing the quality of municipal service delivery. IDFI held the event with the support of the global philanthropic organization, Luminate.

 

The conference consisted of 4 sessions:

 

- Local Self-government Reform: Challenges, Ongoing Reforms and the Role of Civil Society Engagement

- Development of Transparency and Accountability Principles at the Local Level

- Promoting Citizen Participation in Local Decision-making Process

- Increase Access to and Quality of Municipal Services

 

The conference was opened and moderated by Mr. Giorgi Kldiashvili, the Executive Director of IDFI. In his opening remarks, he referred to the Decentralization Strategy 2020-2025, approved by the Government of Georgia, and stressed the need for a broad discussion on the progress of the reform, as well as current challenges.

 

The first panel, entitled - Local Self-government Reform: Challenges, Ongoing Reforms, and the Role of Civil Society Engagement - was moderated by Mr. David Aprasidze, project manager at Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The panelists included:

 

- Ms. Mzia Giorgobiani - Deputy Minister, Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia

- Ms. Nino Kakubava - Project Manager, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

- Ms. Lina Panteleeva – Governance Specialist, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

- Mr. Archil Zhorzholiani - Good Governance for Local Development Programme Adviser, GIZ

 

During the panel, the speakers overviewed the process of the implementation of the local self-government reform in detail. The audience of the online conference got informed that most part of the 26 activities envisaged in the two-year action plan has already been implemented, and the report will be published by the end of the year.

 

All speakers of the panel stressed the importance of the wider participation of civil society and international organizations in the adoption of the decentralization strategy, as a result of which the development of core principles of good governance was properly reflected in the document. The panel participants also expressed hope that a similar level of transparency and public participation will be ensured in the implementation process as well.

 

In the course of the debate, they emphasized that the decentralization process is quite complex and it does not only implies the transfer of particular competencies to municipalities. It is necessary to ensure adequate material and financial resources for them, as well as the development of strategic documents that will focus on long-term outcomes for the municipalities.

 

Participatory budgeting has been named as one of the key tools for citizen participation. As it was mentioned, despite the good results for Georgia in the Open Budget Survey (OBS), the country has a rather low score in public participation.

Finally, the focus was made on the level of public trust, as increasing public trusts represents one of the major goals of the Decentralization Strategy. The speakers discussed the challenges in this regard and shared their viewpoints about how to overcome this challenge, as well as the most effective ways to reduce the sense of nihilism among citizens.

The second panel, entitled - Development of Transparency and Accountability Principles at the Local Level - was moderated by Mr. Mikheil Darchiashvili, Governance Program Manager at USAID Project Good Governance Initiative in Georgia (GGI). Other panelists included:

 

- Ms. Nana Tavdumadze – Chief of Staff, Ozurgeti Municipality Assembly

- Ms. Pelagia Makhauri – Deputy Head of Analytical Department, Ministry of Justice of Georgia

- Mr. Giorgi Nasrashvili – Good Governance Expert, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

- Mr. Nikoloz Rosebashvili - Head of Department of Local Self-governance and Policy, Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure of Georgia

- Ms. Salome Sagharadze – Project Coordinator, Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA)

- Ms. Teona Turashvili – Media, Internet and Innovations Direction  Head, Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) 

 

All participants agreed on the significance of the transparency and accountability chapter of the Decentralization Strategy. In terms of activities envisaged in this direction, the introduction of the Unified Electronic Management System in 2019 was emphasized, along with the importance of launching the system of evaluation and self-assessment at a local level.

 

The panel speakers also overviewed the adoption of the Building Transparency and Integrity Strategies and Action Plans by various municipalities. The importance of the support from international donors and the participation of local stakeholders in the process, as well as the prominence of a complete implementation of the declared commitments, were highlighted.

 

In the course of the panel discussion about the challenges municipalities are facing in terms of transparency and accountability, a number of points were voiced: lack of proactive disclosure of public information, competence and accountability of legal entities, as well as transparency and fair competition in public procurement. As stated by the panel speakers, some of the issues have become even more acute for the municipalities during the Covid-19 pandemic. A high level of politicization, lack of strategic documents and action plans in most municipalities were emphasized. At the same time, the significance of the support from donor organizations in the development and implementation of strategies and action plans at the local level was highlighted. The speakers positively assessed the participation of self-governing entities in the international initiative, Open Government Partnership (OGP), as important changes are implemented and best international practices are shared through this platform.

The third panel on Promoting Citizen Participation in Local Decision-Making Process was moderated by Ms. Tiniko Bolkvadze, Participatory Democracy Program Manager at Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF). The panelists included:

 

- Ms. Natia Apkhazava - Head of Branch in Batumi, Civil Society Institute (CSI)

- Mr. Revaz Barbakadze - Chairman, Rustavi Innovation Hub

- Ms. Marika Gorgadze - Deputy Chief of Party, USAID Good Governance Initiative Project (GGI) in Georgia

- Mr. Irakli Melashvili – Independent Expert

- Mr. Zviad Koridze - Regional Offices Manager, Transparency International Georgia

 

The panel speakers demonstrated the importance of participation tools for promoting good governance to the audience through their experience, implemented initiatives, and best practices.  

 

According to the speakers, citizen participation in the decision-making process serves as one of the cornerstones of good governance. Therefore, the willingness of citizens to contribute to the local decision-making process is of great importance. At the same time, it was stressed that in some cases, citizens face a lack of readiness of local government representatives to promote public participation in policymaking. As a consequence, local government officials do not often support civic initiatives.

 

The panel speakers named participatory budgeting as one of the most efficient participatory tools, as the legislation obligates local governments to consider the issues identified by citizens. At the same time, it was argued that unfortunately, other participatory mechanisms as such a General Assembly of a Settlement, Petition, and the Council of civil advisors remain inefficient, have only consultative functions, and do not have a strong influence on the decision-making process. This raises a sense of mistrust and skepticism among citizens.

 

The panel discussion also highlighted the importance of effective implementation of the decentralization policy, as the development of local municipalities will improve communication between the public and local governments. As a result, local priorities will be determined and decisions on important policy issues will be made with the participation of the local population.  

 

It was also noted that it is essential to ensure public awareness about appropriate citizen participation mechanisms. Citizens should be informed about how and in what way they can be engaged, and what challenges they may face in the process.

 

The speakers also indicated that the willingness and activism of citizens are not enough, and support and promotion of the use of participatory mechanisms from local self-government authorities play a crucial role. The use of innovative online platforms and the best international, including Estonian practice, was also emphasized in this regard.

 

The final panel entitled - Increase Access to and Quality of Municipal Services - was moderated by Ms. Magda Popiashvili, Editor-in-chief of Droa.Ge. The panelists included:

 

- Mr. Lasha Machavariani – Acting Chairperson, Municipal Services Development Agency

- Mr. Zviad Modebadze – Program Coordinator, ASB Georgia

- Ms. Lizi Sopromadze – Chair of the Board, Regional Development Center

- Mr. Giorgi Toklikishvili – Local Governance and Regional Development Specialist, Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC)

 

In terms of improving the access to and quality of municipal service delivery, the speakers named the lack of digitization of public services as one of the main challenges and stressed the need for introducing and developing innovative approaches at the local level.

 

In this context, the current initiative, in frames of which e-services are being introduced in 21 pilot municipalities of Georgia, was positively assessed. 17 modules were created, which will enable citizens to receive municipal services online.

 

The panelists also noted that the provision of particular municipal services is crucial for the effectiveness of local self-government. It is also important to develop proper communication mechanisms, which will facilitate effective collaboration between the representatives of the local public sector and civil society.

 

The fact that service delivery in Georgia is predominantly centralized, wasnamed among other challenges. In this context, it is difficult for the central government to identify and respond to the needs of the local population. Therefore, according to the speakers, it is of great importance to have a decentralized policy/approach, as well as to increase the role of local municipalities in service delivery. In the process of planning and evaluation of municipal services, it is important to determine indicators for accessibility and quality, as well as to ensure citizen participation.

 

Please find the full recordings of the Online Conference Panels:

 

Opening Remarks

Panel I: Local Self-Government Reform: Challenges, Ongoing Reforms and the Role of Civil Society Engagement

Panel II: Development of Transparency and Accountability Principles at the Local Level

Panel III: Promoting Citizen Participation in Local Decision-making Process

Panel IV: Increase Access to and Quality of Municipal Services

 

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