Local Democracy Agency – Georgia 2006


Our Sister city Newport had agreed to be the Lead Partner in the venture so the members of Newport-Kutaisi Association Bernard Tyson (Vice Chair), and Cllr David Mayer (Newport City Council), Clare Evans (Newport Council’s European Officer) took part in the setting up of a Local Democracy Agency Georgia in our city – Kutaisi. They were joined by partners from other European Cities (see website www.ldaaonline.org for full details).
During the opening ceremony at Kutaisi Civic Centre all the partners confirmed that they will work together to support democratic and peaceful values and signed a memorandum of understanding.

Here are some reports of the LDA Georgia opening ceremony:


Statement by Professor Madonna Megrelishvili, Chairperson of Kutaisi-Newport international Association

Honoured guests and friends,

I am privileged to participate in this truly interesting and business meeting representing the Kutaisi-Newport International Association the chair of which I have been since the very first days of its formation in 1991. The Association was the result of a Twinning Agreement signed between the two cities in 1989. The Twinning has enjoyed 17 years a success and was recognized with justification an international model for sister cities.11 Positioned at opposite ends of the European continent, Newport and Kutaisi were then separated by far more than just the daunting distance of thousands of miles. Telephone and postal links were nonexistent, travel between Kutaisi and Newport depended on a long journey via Moscow. Many observers believed that the project would fail.

The beginning of Twinning from the USSR coincided with a new wave of Georgian national movement for independence secession and great economic crisis following it. We are proud that it has survived through the most difficult years of civil war and political instability in the country thanks to the free will and hard work and dedication of every member of the two Associations. For a time even communication was difficult and Newport could only look on from a distance at the hardship and difficulties we faced. But being aware of them its people said that they had admiration for the Georgian people.

We discovered how much Welsh and Georgian people had in common - warmth, friendliness, mutual traditions of hospitality, supper countryside, a shared love of music, a joint enthusiasm for learning and the knowledge that the future of both our nations now lies in our own hands. The people of Newport have learned how deeply we feel for our roots, our dignity and pride in the past traditions and our hopes for the future. We demonstrated to them the essence of the Georgian national character and the people’s pride and desire for freedom. It appealed to Welsh people in particular, and as a result a strong bridge has been formed, not only between our cities but also between the countries - Georgia and Wales. The purpose of the links was for the benefit of as many people as possible.

Our links have opened up a lot of opportunities for Kutaisi and Newport. Over the period of 17-year Twinning there have been many exchange visits involving city councillors, scientists, musicians, artists, architects, museum experts, social security and ecology workers, police, transport managers, hotel personnel, writers, journalists, tourism experts, folklore troupes, English teachers, school and University students, representatives of local government departments, Women’s League and the church, etc. From these visits have come several important programmes for Kutaisi:


Our links have opened up a lot of opportunities for Kutaisi and Newport. Over the period of 17-year Twinning there have been many exchange visits involving city councillors, scientists, musicians, artists, architects, museum experts, social security and ecology workers, police, transport managers, hotel personnel, writers, journalists, tourism experts, folklore troupes, English teachers, school and University students, representatives of local government departments, Women’s League and the church, etc. From these visits have come several important programmes for Kutaisi:

A highly successful TACIS Project of Technical Assistance in the development of Small Business Initiatives in Kutaisi; 

• A TACIS Project of Energy Management and Development; 
• A TEMPUS Project with EC to Recognize and Enhance the Management of Kutaisi State University;
• A Project of Medical Equipment to one of the oldest hospitals in Kutaisi from the Gwent Health
• Care Trust (UK).

Thanks to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the University of Wales, Newport and Kutaisi State Universities students from Kutaisi have an opportunity to gain a year scholarship funded by Newport University. Several students have already completed Master degree courses under this Programme. At present they successfully work for the benefit of Georgia in Tbilisi and Kutaisi. At the 1000th Anniversary Celebration of the proclamation of Kutaisi as the capital of the State of Georgia, the Newport delegation donated USD 1000 to the Bagrati Cathedral Foundation which supports this important World Heritage sight.

The Association in Newport has, over the years, provided Kutaisi schools, lycees and Universities with books, video and audio cassettes, magazines and newspapers thanks to which they are now well resourced with a range of valuable materials to enhance delivery of the English Curriculum. Newport in turn, has gained an excellent library of Georgian books and exhibitions of Georgian arts and crafts have been held in the Newport Museum and Art Gallery.

In 2002 a Kutaisi delegation headed by the Mayor was honoured to visit Newport on the occasion of the celebration of the golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen of Britain Elizabeth II and granting City Status to Newport.

British and Georgia media including the BBC through their world service give a full coverage of all important events of two sister cities-Kutaisi and Newport. Both Associations first regularly produced their newspapers and then journals - The Land of the Colchi (Kutaisi) and Aviel (Newport).

The two communities formed a deep commitment towards maintaining and increasing friendship links and understanding in all social, culture and economics spheres of life. The activities of the Twinning are acknowledged by the Georgian government, the British Embassy in Georgia, the Georgian Embassy in the United Kingdom, the British Council, Newport and Kutaisi Local Administration.

Members of Newport Association are invited to participate in Georgian Studies day organized by the Georgian Embassy in Great Britain. This event held every year is dedicated to the latest political development in Georgia, its economy and culture. The 17th Georgian Studies day was held in Newport University and was very successful.

This friendship and commitment are becoming much more meaningful and mutually beneficial for the people of Kutaisi especially in the time when Georgia has embarked on the road of democracy and is building a civilized state aimed at the protection of state and public interests. Important steps are being made for the restoration of the country’s integrity. The constitutional order was restored in Adjara. The country is battling against corruption and criminals and by rebuilding the country on a European model. The nation is determined to settle difficulties through cooperation and economic means. The experience of our friends in Newport is applied to assist us with the development of good government structures and democracy in Kutaisi.

Their country’s experience in perfecting democracy and building new infrastructures is very important for us as well as our experience is important for them. It is a two way process.

We are proud that the Kutaisi-Newport Twinning played its great part for the decision to establish a LDA office in Kutaisi under the umbrella of the Kutaisi Association. The members of KNIA got very interested in the objectives and functions of the LDA and got involved in its activities in Georgia from the very first days. We put a lot of work and effort in founding the LDA GEORGIA in Kutaisi which resulted in forming a team of like minded people who expressed their willingness to found it. To publicize the opening of LDA Georgia we issued the journals in English and Georgian dedicated to this event. Local newspapers and televisions are giving a full coverage of our activities.

We are very interested in fruitful and successful functioning of LDA GEORGIA which has embarked of the road of democracy and is taking the first step on it. We’ll do our best to perform the work of LDA GEORGIA perfect in order to become it very beneficial not only for our city but for the whole country. We believe that the main aims of the Association of the Local Democracy Agencies of the promotion of an active civil society, community development, democratic local authorities, and exchange of best practices, youth and civil society development coincide with the main aim of the Twinning serving the benefit for all people. We all must join our efforts for promoting civil society and local democracy in Georgia to secure further successful development of our country.

In conclusion, I can’t help mentioning that today this significant occasion is taking place in the beautiful mansion generously donated to us by Mr. Mindia Ugrekhelidze, a judge of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and a follower of the best traditions of his distinguished family. His father an outstanding Georgian lawyer and his grandfather, a famous Georgian educator made a great contribution to the development of democracy and human rights in Georgia. The work started by them will now be continued by a new generation of people keen on building a civilized society in Georgia. Mindia apologized for not coming. He is on a business trip in Italy.

From now on the mansion will house three important organizations – the Kutaisi-Newport Association, The English Language Centre and a Local Democracy Agency. The three of them will join their efforts and work together for promoting democratic values in this country.

I am also very pleased to tell you that our meeting is attended by Mindia Ugrekhelidze’s son and his wife. It’s a great honour.

And to finish with I’d like to thank the Mayor of Kutaisi and the Chairperson of the City Council for the help and support they gave us to arrange this ceremony.

Thank you.

Statement by Professor Giorgi Oniani, Rector of Akaki Tsereteli State University

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be present here today and share the happiness upon the significant fact for our town and the whole region. Democratic values have been openly declared more than ten years in our country. We feel the real perspectives of building up a democratic country day by day along with difficulties what is rather natural for post-soviet epoch. Considering it, I do think it is straight to the point and essential to set up a local democracy agency. I hope the main objective and achievement of such organizations will be establishing the life style of a democratic country. Our university reform goes to this way. New bodies of educational management have been created through which more people take part and feel responsible when making important decisions for society and each person. The university is one of the inevitable parts of our town and we do hope a successful educational reform can bring many positive changes generally to the country, in particular to Kutaisi. In this respect we consider the opening of a local democracy agency in Kutaisi, in which the lion’s share lies upon Prof. Madonna Megrelishvili and Mr. Mindia Ugrexelidze. It is because of their fabulous work that the head office of this organization is in Kutaisi. This is in fact an example of revealing democracy, so important and necessary for our town. The logical result of all these is the future success I wish you, Kutaisi and Georgia

Thank you.

Statement by Councillor David Mayer, Newport City council


Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends new and old.

As my colleague from the Newport Kutaisi Association said earlier, I too bring with me today the very best wishes of the citizens of Newport. I think it is important perhaps to stress here that I represent local government in Newport South Wales as there are a number of ‘Newports’ across the UK and I would hate for there to be a case of mistaken identity!

For those of you not familiar with the City of Newport in Wales let me take this opportunity to provide some statistical and contextual background. Newport is the third largest city in Wales and is situated on Wales’ south east coast between the Welsh capital city of Cardiff and the English city of Bristol. There are approximately 140,000 inhabitants within our local authority area which is predominantly urban with an agricultural hinterland.

Newport has one university, the University of Wales, Newport, that has already been involved in many successful initiatives with Kutaisi over the years and I know is keen to continue to support in whatever way possible. There is also one further education college. The city has sixty eight schools with approximately 26,000 pupils.

Newport has a rich industrial heritage and was at the heart of the industrial revolution due to its relationship with the coal and steel producing valleys of South East Wales. Following the decline of such heavy industries over the least few decades however, the local authority is working hard to re-skill those people who have lost their jobs in such sectors. The Council is also embarking on an extremely exciting and challenging programme of physical regeneration of the now mainly redundant dock areas and other rundown parts of the city. This is being driven by the need to modernise Newport’s 9 employment base and act as a catalyst for the City’s renaissance in to a world class city that can compete on the European and international stage.

Newport City Council is committed to delivering effective and efficient democratic services for its citizens. The importance of making decisions as closely to whose most affected by those decisions – otherwise known as the ‘subsidiarity principle’ in European Union jargon – is high on the agenda in Wales. We have made great advances in the use of Information Technology to register and track service requests by residents and this has had unexpected bonuses in the development of democratic structures in service areas. Some of you may know that Wales recently secured devolution from the UK parliament in 2000 and as such now has its own government and Assembly building responsible for making decisions in many areas of public life. The debate about how power is best distributed and managed between national, regional and local governments is a constantly evolving one and I am hopeful that our experiences in Wales will be of interest to you here in Georgia at such an important time in the development of your great country.

There can be no room for ‘democratic deficit’ in an emerging economy keen to work with other partners in European and beyond. The integral workings of democracy however can sometimes be difficult to understand and sustain and it is therefore incumbent on all of us to continually demonstrate the benefits and relevance of ‘government’. In recent elections, Newport saw quite a large number of new Councillors elected to the City Council. A series of training events for local Councillors in key areas of responsibility such as planning for example have taken place. All councillors both new and old have benefited from this process and we are hopeful that such experiences could be shared and developed here.


The Council works closely with the private / business sector and the voluntary sector (NGOs) to deliver important services for our citizens and we would be happy to share the models for achieving such rewarding partnership working with those present here today. We are also keen to learn from you and partners of other alternative ways of achieving effective service delivery. Despite having a population of only 3m, Wales punches well above its weight and benefits from close working relationships between organisations and sectors within its own borders. We also have good experience of having to negotiate and make our voice heard among other, often larger players at the UK and European level. As a City we have benefited enormously from the support of the European Union in regenerating our run down areas and in developing the skills and employment potential of our people and, with our new international partners, we look forward to developing joint projects for the benefit of us all.

The Council has a varied experience of international working and in addition to Kutaisi, the City is twinned with cities in Germany and China. We also have strong links with the Nkhata area of Malawi where Council staff have raised a lot of money to help the hospital there. The latest project involves fundraising to transport a whole ‘dental practice’ to the area. I could continue to talk about all the areas for potential future collaboration and mutual development such as in industrial heritage and tourism, business support and social services but I fear that I would risk overstaying my welcome! Instead I shall leave such discussions for the international partners of this new Local Democracy Agency to debate at a later date.

In closing, may I thank you all for the opportunity to be involved in such an exciting initiatives and may I wish us all well in the future development of the Local Democracy Agency initiative here in Georgia. In particular I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Association of Local Democracy Agencies – Mr Per Vinther, Antonella Valmorbida , Mr Martial Paris and many others for their continuing enthusiasm and support in making today possible.

As we would say in Wales ‘Pob lwc am y dyfodol’ – ‘good luck for the future’.

Thank you.

Statement by Mr Bernand Tyson, Vice chair of Newport-Kutaisi Association

Can I first say thank you for the opportunity to speak at this historic occasion not only for Kutaisi and Georgia but also for wider European collaboration in the building of local democracy on our continent? I bring with me the very best wishes and congratulations from the Newport Kutaisi Association to ALDA and to all who have been involved and work so hard on the establishment of the Local Democracy Agency here in Kutaisi.

Perhaps I should explain that the Newport Kutaisi Association was formed after the decision of the city of Newport, in Wales, to twin with Kutaisi in 1989, to allow the citizens of Newport to play an active role in the twining of our two cities Since then we have arranged exchange visits between such different groups as medical workers to artists, tourist officers to bus drivers and councillors to dancers. We have sponsored students from Kutaisi at the University of Newport and supplied medical equipment to hospitals. Our most recent venture, jointly with EveryChild, a UK based charity, is to host a study programme, in collaboration with Newport City Council and the university for Georgian social workers working on the reform of children’s services across this country. Please visit our website www.nkta.org for more details.

As a representative here today of a non government organisation I would like to address, what I see as one of the central challenges facing NGO`s working for a democratic world.

I come from the country of Wales which has a long tradition of NGO`s, such as political parties and trade unions, who for many hundreds of years have struggled against the established order to secure real gains for ordinary people.


We also know that one of the first victims of totalitarian regimes are groups such as NGO`s, as they often fail to fit in with governments concept of what the state thinks is best. I know that Georgia has been through those times during the years of the USSR.

The idea of a non-government organisation playing an active role in the building of local democracy should not be that remarkable. We often are able to bring specialist knowledge and experience to the building and sustaining of local democracy However as NGO`s we should also remind ourselves that we are only part of the democratic picture. The ballot box and elections are not everything but we should never forget that in an active democracy, politicians at both local and national level, put themselves and their ideas and policies in front of the voters and are sometimes rejected by them.

NGOs are not open to such rigorous testing. We do not face the electorate, as politicians have to do. Perhaps because of this we can sometimes be accused of not being outward looking but seeking only to push the views or interests of our own group to the detriment of helping to paint the bigger picture of local democracy.

Many NGO`s now exist in Georgia and want to play an active part in the LDA. We hope you will welcome us and recognise what we have to offer. But at the same time let all NGO`s accept these special responsibilities.

I would ask that we become beacons of openness, be prepared to adapt and change and to be welcoming to all.

All best wishes from the Newport Kutaisi Association for the tasks you will face in the coming months and years.

And, again , can I say …..remember, you will have friends in Newport.