A new draft law will deprive self-governing status from seven cities — Akhaltsikhe, Ambrolauri, Mtskheta, Ozurgeti, Telavi, and Zugdidi — merging them with surrounding municipalities. This will leave only five self-governing cities: Tbilisi, Rustavi, Kutaisi, Poti, and Batumi.
The government claims that this will save around ₾40–50 million ($16–20 million) annually. However, independent estimates put the number much lower. A joint statement signed by 120 local NGOs, including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and Transparency International Georgia, criticised the move. They claim that savings would amount to only around ₾5.4 million ($2.2 million), and that it contradicts the model of European governance.
While in opposition before 2012, the ruling Georgian Dream party repeatedly criticised the government for creating a centralised system of government, promising to implement reforms to give local governments and regions more power.
Following their election, Georgian Dream moved to increase the number of self-governing cities, which enjoy separate budgets administered by elected mayors and municipal heads.
The government claims that since these cities were separated from their municipalities, they have failed to increase their revenue. The NGOs dispute this, claiming that all of them have done so.
The opposition National Movement has accused the government of decreasing the number of self-governing cities because of upcoming local elections, which they claim the government has no hope of winning if heads are directly elected.
‘Members of the city councils single-handedly supported the idea of [former Prime Minister] Bidzina Ivanishvili to abolish the status of self-governing cities. The only way out of this will be if the president will call the election soon so that the insidious plan of Ivanishvili might fail’, the UNM writes.
Local elections are scheduled to be held in Georgia later in 2017.