‘Make a public consultation process mandatory for any project that seriously impacts the environment’

new buildings in tbilisiThis entry to the section “I have an idea” was contributed by BIN member Alexandre Mishvelidze

There is a need to increase opportunities for citizens’ participation in public life, and this should serve as an indicator of the committment to democratisation of any government. Informed and meaningful public participation is an effective instrument for integrating social and environmental concerns in the process of making decisions. Granting the participatory right to the citizens will increase social responsibility and ensure public participation in the policy implementation process thus improving the quality of environmental governance. 

Georgia has adopted a range of environmental laws and is party to relevant environmental multilateral agreements such as the Aarhus Convention, which legally ensure the right of citizens to have access to environmental information and be involved in the policy making process. However, there are number of challenges driven by either by government officials’ reluctance to involve outside actors in environmental policymaking, or as a result of limited capacity of civil society to advocate the environmental policymaking activities. At the management level, a number of legislative and normative acts declare the government’s responsibility for ensuring public participation in the decision-making process as they oblige project developers to inform the public about planned projects and organize public consultation meetings and public discussions. However, in many cases decision-making processes are either closed and not transparent, or limited to a small number of attendees, and discussions do not result in policy-influencing capacity of the society  as the government is left unaware of public opinion. Thus, public involvement often takes the form of post factum protests, usually through street activism.

At the civic level, recent studies confirm the low rates of public participation indicating that this is mostly driven by the lasting impact of the Soviet legacy where citizens were involved in politics only as recipients of orders, not as active participants. Another reason is the current socioeconomic context. Due to ongoing economic hardships Georgian citizens do not prioritize public issues. The government manipulates its citizens by promising that there would be considerable economic benefits from the development of a particular project rather than focusing on potential ecological disadvantages and damage to the environment. Alongside the above two reasons, the lack of civic awareness results in the citizens’ limited social responsibility. Most people do not consider environmental protection as a priority. And finally, people are less likely to participate when they believe that an ordinary citizen is unable to effectively challenge and change.

Concretely, I would like to propose that whenever there is a project that is going to have a considerable impact on the environment, there needs to be a mandatory public consultation process that is transparent and open to all in society. We also need to seek to improve the perception that citizens in post-Soviet countries have of their role in politics and the environment as a whole – environmental protection is important for Georgians and as individuals, citizens should have the power to make impact policy.

Of course, whilst such a procedure would be very helpful for Georgia, it would also be valuable in other states that face similar problems in the implementation of effective environmental policy.

Alexandre Mishvelidze is a member of BIN from Georgia

BIN members can contribute their ideas by sending their contributions to office.bin18@gmail.com

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