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David Zardiashvili: Do We Need a Community Revolution?

The term "community" refers to a social group, usually larger than a village, whose members reside in a specific locality and often share a common cultural and historical heritage. Respectively, the local self-government is sometimes referred to as community government.  

The "quality" of local self-government is usually measured by the following two criteria:

- How democratic is the local self-government? How well does it represent local communities' interests and will?

- How effective, cost-efficient and beneficial are the local self-government's services for the communities? 

Obviously, these criteria - the level of democracy of local self-government and efficiency of its services - are largely intertwined and interdependent. To be sufficiently effective, the local self-government must be responsive to the needs of local communities and its services must be tailored to serve their interests, not be pressed upon them. On the other hand, local democracy cannot succeed if these services are not efficient and the communities' interests are not adequately represented and fulfilled by the local self-government.  

If applied to the Georgian reality these general principles paint a very grim picture: there is in fact no community government, or local self-government, in Georgia today. This argument, however radical and extreme it may seem, is quite easy to prove. The proof can be summarised just in a single paragraph. 

The stable supply of water, natural gas and electricity is one of the most essential and needed communal, or local, services. Georgia remains among a handful of countries where this vital communal service is not within the local self-government's competence. Moreover, even still regulated by the state, communal services in Georgia belong to the private, not public, sector. Georgia is perhaps the only country in the world to have transferred water supply and sanitation from the public to the private domain. 

There is not a single clause in the Georgian legislation to stipulate that the water supply is the prerogative of the central or local government. This situation stems from the chaos of the first post-Soviet years. By that time the communal service system had completely disintegrated and the government had to rebuild it from scratch. Few cared about local democracy at the time as long as people had electricity in their homes. However, just the inefficiency of communal services was one of the main reasons of Shevardnadze government's demise. It may be assumed that but for the Rose Revolution, Georgia would have faced massive protests and riots against chronic blackouts. Maybe that's where the Georgian society made a mistake; maybe it had better launch a community revolution, instead of the rose one? But who thought about local communities at that time? Their voices were largely unheard and unheeded. 

Anyway, to overcome the chaos, the revolutionary government created a new, rather bizarre and arbitrarily designed system of communal services, wherein neither local communities nor local self-governments have any voice in deciding the service provision policies. In this system ordinary citizens are powerless end-users, who have no rights but only the obligation to pay whatever they are billed, no matter the quality of the service. And they have no other choice: monopolist service providers are free to corner the market, impose and implement any policy they want and exploit public resources at will, while the service provision conditions and, most importantly, service fees are decided by the so-called regulator even though it has no mandate from the general public.   

Small wonder that when a regulator is accountable only to its patron, i.e. the central government that has appointed it, rather than to the people, its main function is to "validate" secret deals between the government and the monopolies. As a result, the monopolist service providers have their hands free to "rob" the customers by overcharging them or imposing draconian fines calculated arbitrarily by themselves. 

The nationwide power supply is stable nowadays, to be sure, but at what cost: We have been forced to relinquish our rights and accept an unreasonably high power supply fee. 

Under the Georgian constitution, the people possess an inalienable right to local self-governance. In reality, however, it is blatantly ignored and violated, since local self-governments are deprived of vital communal services. It means that there is in fact no community government in Georgia and monopolists are given free rein in the country. But for how long? Don't we really need a community revolution, do we? 

 

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