There are very few known or suspected cases related to clientelism in local government in Georgia. This does not necessarily mean that there are no cases at all, but rather that they are either rare, or not investigated enough. Both of these reasons have some basis: the transparent, centralized and automatic public procurement system makes it significantly harder for public officials to practice bribe-taking and kickbacks; but at the same time, there is no effective and independent mechanism for investigating high level corruption offenses (Georgian NGOs have been demanding for such an agency to be created for some time now). There is also significant lack of relevant work by journalists and civil society actors at the municipal level.
Somewhat ironically, the fact that the political landscape of Georgia over the past 15 years has been lacking diversity (the country went from UNM majority in all municipalities prior to 2012 to GD majority in all municipalities after) could have considerably reduced the need for the central government to resort to clientelism to secure political support or reward loyal supporters.
The fact that the last two governments had majority representation and executive authority in all municipalities has eliminated the need to punish unruly local governments. Moreover, since local governments in Georgia are already at the financial mercy of the central government, this has created a situation where local authorities have to compete for the political as well as financial favor of the central government, and potentially risk much by displaying disloyalty.
As to be expected, the only clear evidence for development funds being used for political purposes can be found in the transition period between the last two governments, when the outgoing UNM used various means and procedures to funnel an unpreceded amount of development funds to local authorities prior to the crucial 2012 parliamentary elections, presumable in an effort to incentivize political and voter support on the local government level.
Data on political migration from the two most recent watershed elections in Georgia, 2003 and 2012, shows that local government actors in Georgia are highly likely to change political allegiances in favor of the ultimate winner, perhaps in order to enjoy all the privileges that come with being part of the majority or in an effort to avoid standing out as the only opposition in a country fully run by a single party. Marneuli municipality, which made a complete U turn from voting 16% in favor of GD in 2012 to 69% in 2017, was perhaps one of the most extreme examples of the latter.
Author: Giorgi Lomtadze / Institute for Development of Freedom of Information
Project financed by a grant of the Open Society Foundations.