Civil Society Institute Contributes to Improved Civic Engagement Practices in the Batumi Municipality
The Batumi branch of the non-governmental organization, the Civil Society Institute (CSI), has been working for more than 10 years to increase civic engagement and foster open self-governance in the Batumi municipality. As of 2015, when amendments to the Code on Local Self-Government determined forms and mechanisms for civic engagement, the Batumi branch of CSI, with EWMI ACCESS support, launched an active civic campaign to make sure that the mechanisms enshrined in the law are set in practice.
One of the important tools for civic engagement is the Citizen Advisory Council – a consultancy unit that represents various groups of society. In March 2016, the Mayor of Batumi City established a Citizen Advisory Council and approved the Council regulations with a special decree. The Batumi branch of CSI supported this process by forming a group of experts who studied international best practices as well as analyzed specifics of the Councils operating in Georgia and submitted relevant recommendations to the Mayor. Despite these efforts, the Council remained dysfunctional until June 2018, when the newly elected Mayor of Batumi considered majority of the recommendations from CSI and approved a revised decree on the Citizen Advisory Council. Thanks to Batumi branch of CSI, the changes were made to core aspects of the Council, including its formation mechanism, competencies, structure, and operations.
Revised model grants Council’s members the power to influence decision-making. Previously, the Mayor was solely in charge of selecting the Council members, whereas now the council members are nominated by miscellaneous groups (NGOs, Student’s Self-governance, Ajara Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and many others) and the Mayor endorses them. According to new edition, the members of the Council are the ones to elect the Council head, while previously the Mayor would select the head. Previous decree did not determine the functions and competencies of the Council and now it offers exhaustive list of functions. In particular, the Council is authorized to: review the Batumi City Mayor’s activities, participate in the municipal budget formation process and review the budget before it is submitted to Batumi Sakrebulo (local legislative body), review the ongoing and planned social and infrastructural projects, present local problems to the Mayor and propose solutions, organize discussions and public hearings on important municipal issues, etc.
Informing ordinary citizens regarding Council’s activities is an important precondition for its legitimacy. For this purpose, as recommended by Batumi branch of the CSI, the City Hall will announce upcoming Council meetings on its website at least two days in advance. Minutes of the meetings will also be uploaded online. Every interested citizen has the right to attend the Council meetings. In addition, the Council will report to the public and the City Hall on annual basis.
The head of Batumi Branch of CSI, Natia Apkhazava, as well as two other representatives from NGO sector were elected as Council members. First meeting of the Citizen Advisory Council was held in September, 2018.