One of the hot topics during the debates concerning the 2016 Tbilisi City draft budget has been the free canteen programme with special emphasis upon the GEL 1.18 per day allocated to feed programme beneficiaries. The Chair of the United National Movement faction at Tbilisi City Council, Sevdia Ugrekhelidze, commented upon this issue: "The increase in money and adding millions [to the budget for free canteens for homeless people] should not be welcomed at all because the number of socially vulnerable people is rising. There were 13,200 beneficiaries at the end of 2014. We started 2015 with 22,704 beneficiaries and ended that year with 26,000. In 2016, the programme expects to have 32,000 beneficiaries."
According to the statement of the Chair of the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia faction at Tbilisi City Council, Rima Beradze, the rise in the number of beneficiaries was caused by the fact that beneficiaries were not properly registered in the past. Ms Beradze stated: "In regard to the rising number of beneficiaries… in the past, they were not even registered and the process was completely unregulated."
The free canteen service is purchased by Tbilisi’s district municipalities. According to contracts signed in 2014 by these district municipalities, a total of 27,160 beneficiaries were fed at the free canteens every day. In 2015, the city’s district municipalities signed multi-annual contracts (to 31 December 2017) to purchase free canteen services for 32,367 beneficiaries. In 2015, GEL 13,070,700 was allocated for this purpose. According to the city’s draft budget submitted to Tbilisi City Council on 10 December 2015, Tbilisi City Hall envisaged GEL 14,474,500 for the free canteen programme. According to the budget’s respective sub-programmes, Tbilisi’s district municipalities envisage feeding 33,955 beneficiaries at the city’s free canteens.
Of particular note is that according to the contracts concerning the purchasing of the free canteen services, the number of canteen beneficiaries has been on the rise annually (see Graph 1).
Number of Free Canteen Beneficiaries (According to Contracts)
The registration of the free canteen programme beneficiaries in Tbilisi is regulated by Decree N2344 of the Mayor of Tbilisi issued on 26 November 2014. Before this decree was issued, the registration process was regulated by Ordinance N3355 of the Mayor of Tbilisi issued on 5 December 2012. According to both of these legal acts, any applicant who lives in Tbilisi and whose Social Service Agency ranking points do not exceed 200,000 can be included on the list of beneficiaries. Additionally, in special cases a beneficiary can be added to the list of beneficiaries by the decision of the head of a district municipality. The date when the beneficiary is included on the list of beneficiaries is determined by the time when his application was registered. Therefore, the same methodology which was previously used to register free canteen beneficiaries is also currently in place.FactCheck
also took interest in whether or not Tbilisi district municipalities were charged with obtaining information and registering socially vulnerable citizens who had not yet submitted their applications according to the 2014 decree of the Mayor of Tbilisi. As demonstrated by our research, district municipalities were not responsible for registering potential beneficiaries in the past and they are not responsible for this at the present time. District municipalities review the applications of citizens and then use this information to make a decision upon whether or not to include the individual on the list of free canteen beneficiaries.
Of further note is that the number of potential beneficiaries in Tbilisi has dropped to the figures registered in 2012 (see Graph 2).
Number of Individuals Registered in the Social Service Agency Database
The number of free canteen beneficiaries in Tbilisi has increased in 2015 as compared to 2014. The number of beneficiaries is envisaged to increase by an additional 1,588 in 2016.Both in the previous years and for the present day, the list of free canteen beneficiaries is composed by the district municipalities based upon programme applications which they receive and review. There were no changes in the methodology of the registration. In spite of FactCheck’s attempt, we were unable to obtain additional explanation from Rima Beradze concerning the information in her statement that "beneficiaries were not registered in the previous years." FactCheck concludes that Rima Beradze’s statement is FALSE. The number of free canteen beneficiaries named by Sevdia Ugrekhelidze largely coincides with the number given in the contracts signed by Tbilisi’s district municipalities. However, Ms Ugrekhelidze has associated the rise in the number of beneficiaries with the rise in poverty which cannot be concluded explicitly. The number of beneficiaries was also on the increase in the past with the reason behind the rising number also perhaps being the increased awareness of beneficiaries of the programme. Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Sevdia Ugrekhelidze’s statement is HALF TRUE.