Monday, May 22, 2017

Air Pollution in Tbilisi: What the Data Says

[Note: This is a guest blog post by Dr. Hans Gutbrod, the former Director of CRRC.]

With the recent debate on traffic safety, it may also be a good time to highlight the issue of air pollution in Tbilisi – especially as municipal elections are coming up, and citizens (and candidates) may ask themselves what issues the election should focus on.

The data is clear: citizens care about pollution and the environment. In the June 2016 survey that CRRC conducted for NDI-Georgia, pollution was seen as a key concern for residents of Tbilisi. In the capital, 38% named it as one of the most important infrastructural issues, placing it ahead of all other issues related to infrastructure. In general, all generations care, but the young a bit more. In Tbilisi, about 40% of those under 36 years of age mentioned pollution as an issue compared to 32% of those 56 and older.

Politically, the topic also seems to resonate, though less strongly with voters who tend towards the big parties. Only 33% of Georgian Dream voters and 35% of United National Movement voters reported that pollution was the number one infrastructural issue in Tbilisi (Note: the party landscape has changed since the survey). This may in part be a result of the small sample size once you do crosstabs, but could also suggest that the environment and pollution may be an issue to mobilize and rally voters around. Supporting this contention is the fact that 40% of undecided voters in Tbilisi named the issue as the most important one in Tbilisi.

Yet how bad is the situation really? It is not so easy to find out. The government does collect data at three measuring stations that have been donated by Japan, but it is made available one day late, in PDFs, and even those who have interpreted lots of data will need a significant amount of time to decipher what is going on.

A very quick glance on some random days in February suggests that the pollution in Tbilisi repeatedly exceeds limits that are considered healthy – often by a multiple.


Whatever the policy prescription, one sensible next step for citizens and parties to demand, and for the government to take, is to make this data accessible straightaway, live. Having the data, citizens could decide on what to expose themselves to, when. To have a good debate on policy, we need good data. Thus, a sensible suggestion to politicians whenever and wherever you meet them is to request that public pollution data be made available in real time.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Debts and Loans in Georgia (Part 2)

The first part of this blog post showed that people who report being in a worse economic situation are more likely to have debts in Georgia. In the second part of this blog post, a new variable is added to the analysis, “Does anyone owe you any money?”

While 46% of the population of Georgia report having debt, only 20% report that someone owes them money. In the latter, group, there are no differences by gender and settlement type, but there are differences by age. People between 36 and 55 years of age are more likely to say that someone owes them money. As seen in the first part of this blog post, people in this age group are also most likely to report they have personal debts.

The cross tabulation of the questions about having debt and being owed money shows that people who are owed money are slightly more likely to have debts.


A new variable, “Debts and Loans,” was created to group people into four categories based on the two CB questions discussed above.



Forty four percent of the population of Georgia are part of the largest group who report neither having debts nor being owed any money. These people are neither better off nor worse off compared to the population on average. The second largest group has debts but no one owes them money. They appear to be in the worst economic situation, with the greatest share of people saying they do not have enough money for food and for clothes in comparison to other groups. The two smallest groups are people who say someone owes them money. The two groups who have no debts appear to be in a relatively good economic situation, with the largest shares of people saying they can afford expensive durables.


Based on the findings presented in both parts of this blog post, debts are approximately twice as common in Georgia as being owed money. Yet, the largest share of the population of the country are those who report neither having debts, nor being owed money.

To look at these issues in more detail, explore the Caucasus Barometer data at CRRC’s Online Data Analysis platform.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Debts and Loans in Georgia (Part 1)

In Georgia, where, according to the World Bank, a third of the population live on under USD 2.5 per day, poverty and unemployment are consistently considered the most important issues facing the country. For those who are struggling financially, borrowing is a widespread coping mechanism. While access to credit can have benefits, debt can also have psychological costs, such as increased stress and anxiety. CRRC’s 2015 Caucasus Barometer (CB) data show interesting patterns about having personal debts in Georgia. The first part of this blog post focuses on the characteristics of those who report having personal debts in Georgia, while the second part looks at the money lending patterns, as well as reported well-being of people who are owed money or who borrow it.

In response to the question, “Do you currently have any personal debts?” which asks about all types of debt a person may have, 46% of the population report having debts and 53% say they do not have any. There are no large differences by settlement type. People between 36 and 55 years of age report having debts more frequently than people in other age groups. Men report they have debts slightly more often than women.


Note: The charts in this blog post do not include answer options “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer,” which constituted 1% of responses.

People reporting a more difficult economic situation in their household are more likely to say they have debts. While 55% of people who state they do not have enough money for food report having debts, 28% of people who have enough money for durables report the same.


Note: Answer options “We can afford to buy some expensive durables like a refrigerator or washing machine” and “We can afford to buy anything we need” were combined into the category “Can afford to buy expensive durables” on the chart above.

In the second part of this blog post, which will be published on Monday, patterns of both borrowing and lending money will be discussed.

To have a closer look at the Caucasus Barometer data, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis platform.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Rising expectations: People report more positive expectations about MPs immediately after elections

Research suggests that voters not only become more knowledgeable about political issues, but also more politically engaged during electoral campaigns. CRRC/NDI survey data also suggest that during the periods immediately following elections, there are more positive expectations about elected officials. These, however, do not last long after elections.

A citizen’s knowledge of which Member of Parliament (MP) represents her or him ebbs and flows with election cycles in Georgia. In March 2016, three and a half years after the most recent parliamentary elections in October 2012, only 31% of the population of Georgia answered correctly who their majoritarian member of parliament was at the time. A month after the October 2016 parliamentary elections, in November 2016, the respective share nearly doubled (57%). The findings before and after the 2012 parliamentary elections are similar. In the period between the elections, knowledge of which MP represented a constituent declined.


People’s expectations of their MPs also oscillate with the electoral cycle, with higher expectations immediately after elections. After both the October 2012 and October 2016 elections, the share of those reporting that MPs will serve people’s interests increased almost two-fold compared to early spring of the election year. Expectations that MPs will serve only their own interests have a tendency to decrease immediately after elections. However, they gradually increase later on. The expectations that MPs will do what their political party will tell them to also decrease immediately after the elections, although the gaps are smaller.


Note: In the survey waves from February 2012 through April 2014, the question was asked about majoritarian members of parliament. Since April 2015, the question was asked about members of parliament in general.

Positive expectations also increased after the October 2016 elections in respect to whether the newly elected MPs will take into account the opinions of regular people – “people like you,” as it was worded in the questionnaire. On the November 2016 survey, 63% either completely or somewhat agreed with this opinion, while the respective share was only 28% in March 2016, when the same question was asked about the MPs that were in office at the time.
This evidence suggests that people in Georgia become more optimistic about members of parliament in the months immediately following elections, believing that elected politicians will serve people’s interests. However, as time passes, they become disillusioned and their expectations become more skeptical.

To explore the CRRC/NDI survey findings, visit CRRC’s Online Data Analysis portal.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How many Tetri are in a Lari? The importance of municipal statistics for good governance

[Note: This post was co-published with Eurasianet and authored by Koba Turmanidze, CRRC-Georgia's Director.] 

The government of Georgia committed itself to collect and publish policy-relevant data in a timely manner under the Open Government Partnership. Yet while most ministries and state agencies are happy to provide national-level statistics, they often fail to break them down to the municipal level. 

As a result, if you think about it in monetary terms, the current system means that officials do not know how many tetri are in a lari. 

Reliable municipal statistics can contribute to good governance in several important ways. First, municipal-level data can let citizens assess the quality of state services they receive compared to other municipalities, or to the national average. Second, municipal-level data can help policy makers improve the targeting of programs, and therefore, spend public money more efficiently. Third, it can help both government and citizens evaluate the successes and failures of municipal governance.

The following scenarios highlight the benefits of comprehensive data on a local level: 

Imagine you want to move from one town to another for a better job. You consider moving with your spouse and a child of school age. However, your spouse does not want to move, arguing that your town has much better public schools than the new one. In such cases, it would help if you could look at municipal-level education data to see if schools in the two towns are similar or different in terms of the student-teacher ratio, exam scores, the success rate on national examinations, etc. 

Imagine you are a civil servant and are working with an investor to build a new factory in a municipality. You want the factory to be built in the municipality where its social impact will be highest. To persuade the investor, you use municipal statistics to demonstrate that the municipality of your choice has high unemployment, yet its labor force is younger and better trained than in comparable municipalities. 

Imagine you are an analyst in a think tank and your task is to advise the government on whether to extend a poverty reduction program or not. The government claims the program helped to reduce poverty by two percentage points nationwide, but you have reasons to suspect that the reduction happened in certain settlements, whereas in others the program had a negligible impact. You look at relevant data on the program and poverty statistics, and conclude that the program’s effect across municipalities was truly unequal. Importantly, it made no difference in the most economically deprived communities. Therefore, you advise the government to redesign the program to improve its impact on the communities with the highest poverty rates, before pouring more money into it. 

Unfortunately, we can only imagine the above. These three scenarios remain purely hypothetical, since, in Georgia, reliable municipal data is rarely available on education, employment and poverty. 

CRRC-Georgia’s repeated interactions with a multitude of state agencies over the past three years have uncovered at least three problems regarding municipal data. First, when municipal data of potentially good quality exists, it is often not processed and made available to the public. Second, if municipal data is accessible, its quality is often questionable. Third, municipal data often does not exist at all, since the responsible agency does not recognize its value, or is unable to collect it due to lack of relevant training. 

Below are three concrete cases that correspond to these three problems: 

Case 1: Until recently, the National Assessment and Examination Center (NAEC) maintained detailed and high-quality data on the results of the Unified National Exams (UNE) for many years. The data allowed one to see which municipality’s and even school’s students were most successful in the exams. Such data was not proactively shared on the Center’s website, but was available upon request. The situation changed when the Center introduced electronic applicant registration in 2011. Under the new system, an applicant’s place of residence and school was no longer recorded. However, the Center could still identify the municipality based on an applicant’s ID number. 

For the 2015 UNE results, NAEC processed the data this way and made the data file available on its website. However, when CRRC-Georgia requested the same data for 2016, the Center turned the request down, arguing it no longer processed data per municipality, and would not do so for our sake. As a result, it is no longer possible to analyze municipal- or school-level performance and map it as we did in this blog post. At the time, this map drew attention to large differences in educational attainment countrywide, including an important fact – that Unified National Exam scores in Upper Ajara were among the worst in the country. In part in response to this fact, AGL, a Norwegian company building a hydro-electric dam in upper Ajara created a tutoring program for students in the region to help them prepare for the exams. If the NAEC withholds such data, it will hinder the ability of interested parties to spot trends and develop remedial policies.

Case 2: The Social Service Agency (SSA) is a leading organization in the country in terms of providing access to comprehensive data on poverty and targeted social assistance at the national and municipal levels. Among other statistics, the Agency reports monthly data on applicants and recipients of social aid. The 2014 census data, however, casts some doubt on whether the SSA poverty statistics are trustworthy. 

The scale of mismatch between the agency’s data and the 2014 census results is evident from the chart below. Using Geostat’s population estimates, the agency calculates the share of the population registered for targeted social assistance in each municipality. The census was conducted in November 2014, so it is possible to re-calculate the share of those registered for targeted social assistance based on the census data and compare it with the agency’s estimates. 

Let’s take the extreme case of Lentekhi. The agency reported that 44 percent of the population applied for targeted social assistance. When the census data is used, the finding is that 89 percent of Lentekhi residents registered for social assistance. Thus, the SSA estimate was 45 percentage points lower than the actual percentage. The chart below plots the differences between the shares of the population registered for targeted social assistance, as calculated and reported by the SSA on the one hand, and updated calculations based on the 2014 census data on the other, for each municipality in November 2014. Overall, the agency underestimated the share of applicants by 14 percentage points, on average. However, publicly available data has yet to be adjusted based on the 2014 census.    



Case 3: In a number of cases municipal statistics do not exist. Measuring the scale of economic activity (level of employment by employment sector, total value added, etc.) in every municipality would require large-scale surveys that are both time-consuming and expensive. Geostat’s periodic Integrated Household Survey cannot provide this information, due to the cost that such a large sample size would entail. 

However, the Revenue Service (RS) under the Ministry of Finance of Georgia could help solve this challenge. Based on taxpayers’ IDs, the agency can provide information about the number of taxpayers, be it individuals or organizations, and amount of taxes collected in each municipality. This information would serve as a good proxy of economic activity by municipality. However, as the RS told CRRC-Georgia, it can only break the data down for regions. Officials claimed that breaking the data down further was not possible. 

Undoubtedly, the collection and analysis of municipal data requires additional resources. However, the three concrete cases highlighted above show that a little increase in awareness regarding municipal data could go a long way toward promoting better municipal governance in important ways. Investors could have clearer insight into the best investment destinations, for one. Civil society groups would also have better ways to assess the successes and failures of government actions. Citizens likewise would have a better idea of where their place of residence stands compared to other parts of the country, or the national average. Government could have better tools to ensure equal access to services in the country, or to achieve efficiencies in the provision of services. 

All of this is possible. Unfortunately, it is not reality. And as a result, the government doesn’t know how many tetri are in a lari.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why the civil service? The civil service as seen by civil servants in Georgia

The civil service plays an important role in the development of a country. Thus the competence and motivation of civil servants matter. An online survey of civil servants conducted by CRRC-Georgia for NATO-PDP in December 2015 – January 2016 was one of the first attempts in Georgia to study civil servants’ perceptions of and attitudes towards their job. This blog post provides a brief overview of some of the findings, focusing on reported reasons for choosing to work in the civil service, the advantages and problems civil servants see with their jobs, as well as general assessments of civil servants’ motivation to work.

Slightly over a half of civil servants (56%) reported that the main reason they chose their job was an interest in working in the public sector. Forty-five percent hoped to improve their professional skills. The third most frequently named reason was a hope to improve the situation in their field. Importantly, a rather small share of civil servants (18%) reported a “stable job” as a reason for choosing to work in the civil service, and only 2% named an “attractive salary”.



About half of civil servants named the opportunity to contribute to the development of the country as the main advantage of working in the civil service. The opportunity to acquire new professional skills was the second most frequent answer, while the opportunity to make new connections, work one’s way up within the organization, and work with competent colleagues were named rarely.



Civil servants most frequently assessed the motivation to work of those in the civil service as average (50%). Positive assessments, though, are much more frequent than negative ones (36% vs 15%).

Note: To a certain extent, in response to most of the questions in this survey, civil servants tended to pick answers that can be considered socially desirable. Hence, social desirability bias is likely to have affected other responses as well, including assessments of other civil servants’ motivation to work. In order to avoid this bias in the case of this question, a very general wording was used: “How would you assess civil servants’ motivation to work?” This question measures civil servants’ reported perceptions of their colleagues’ motivation. To a certain extent, social desirability bias likely still influenced responses. However, this influence should be less than if the question had been asked about the respondent herself. 

Should the 50% of “average” assessments be considered a problem? Probably. The state invests financial resources in the improvement of civil servants’ professional skills, and the country, overall, is interested in a high productivity of their work. Undoubtedly, motivation encourages productivity. Thus, higher motivation will also lead to a more efficient use of public resources.

While trying to increase civil servants’ motivation in Georgia, it is important to consider the problems they face. The most frequently named problem is a lack of professionally competent civil servants. A fear of losing one’s job and poor infrastructure come in second and third, followed by a fair number of other problems.


Addressing these problems may improve civil servants’ motivation to work. As a result, the country would benefit from higher productivity among civil servants.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Proposed Reform Could Tilt Electoral Field Toward Incumbents

Irakli Kobakhidze, Speaker of Georgian Parliament, recently outlined proposed constitutional changes. Among them is a switch to a fully proportional electoral system, which civil society groups have long argued for. But this possible switch could tamp down on political competition.

This pending reform would produce two major changes besides the nixing of the first-past-the-post component: the first would re-allocate votes for parties that fail to clear the 5-percent electoral threshold (the percentage needed for a party to gain representation in parliament) to the leading party; the second, which is ironic coming from a party that came to power as a coalition, would prohibit parties from forming electoral coalitions. Taken together, some experts have cautioned that the proposed rules-changes could tilt the electoral playing field in favor of the incumbents, and thus would mark a setback for civil society.


In order to test the claim that the proposed reforms could skew democratic development in Georgia, and how the changes might affect future elections, the Caucasus Research Resource Centers calculated how seats would have been distributed among parties in the past three legislative elections.

The CRRC model looks at three variants, including the mixed system that Georgia currently uses, one which distributes seats through a coalition of a party-list vote, and first-past-the-post races. The CRRC model also applies the criteria that the parliament speaker proposed March 21, under which there is only the proportional, party-list vote, along with the re-allocation rule that gives the leading party the votes received by parties that fail to clear the 5-percent hurdle. In addition, the CRRC model shows how MP seats would be distributed on the basis of a proportional-vote system only with a 5 percent threshold, but without the re-allocation provision.

The CRRC model shows that in the 2008 and 2016 elections, during which there was only one strong party in the country, the incumbent party would have ended up with roughly the same number of seats under the current mixed system and the proportional-only system with the re-allocation rule. The incumbents would lose a significant number of seats, yet still retain a safe majority, under the system of proportional voting without re-allocation.



There would seem to be a genuine danger that the proposed rules changes would give the incumbents a decided advantage in a race in which two parties are otherwise evenly matched.

The 2012 election underscores this point. That race, which matched the Georgian Dream against United National Movement (UNM), was close and intense. When the results are run through the CRRC model, the parliament would have almost the same seat allocation under a fully proportional system as under the current mixed system. However, if the votes for parties that didn’t clear the 5-percent hurdle were re-allocated as Speaker Kobakhidze suggested, it would favor the winner, when compared to a proportional system without the re-allocation rule.


While the proportional system Georgian Dream proposes might appear to mark an improvement over the current system in some cases, under circumstances where there is a high level of political fragmentation, such as is currently the case, the changes would provide a significant boost to incumbent authority.

To highlight this phenomenon, a detailed look at the 1995 Georgian parliamentary elections is useful. In the 1995 vote, over 50 parties vied for seats in the legislature and 62 percent of ballots were cast for parties that didn’t clear the 5-percent hurdle, and thus were ineligible for representation in parliament. Had the electoral system in 1995 been the one that the Georgian Dream is currently advocating, rather than 107 seats, the Citizens Union of Georgia would have won 187 seats in what was a 235-member legislature.



The Georgian Dream, which came to office as an electoral coalition, is also proposing a ban on electoral coalitions. This rule in combination with wasted votes being allocated to the winner is likely to further benefit incumbents.

Each party would either have to run independently, or form a new political party to run together in elections. In practice, this rule obstructs electoral consolidation, which often promotes the formation of stable parliaments in a genuinely pluralistic system. If implemented in its current form, it is likely the new rule would increase the number of seats in parliament awarded to the party with the largest share of the vote.

Even without this change, Georgia’s political parties have already been fragmenting in recent years. The Georgian Dream was once a six-party coalition, but now consists of a single large party (the Georgian Dream) and two minor parties (the Conservatives and the Social Democrats). The remaining parties that formed the original coalition are now independent. Meanwhile, the United National Movement (UNM) has broken up into a number of parties, starting with the 2012-2016 parliament, when UNM members split to form Girchi and New Georgia, and more recently, when a majority of the party’s MPs broke off to establish the Movement for Freedom - European Georgia.

Another matter of potential concern is the question of dark money in the electoral system. It’s possible that incumbents, acting through shadowy intermediaries, could potentially provide assistance to small parties in order to draw votes away from potential competitors. This strategy has already been part of political competition in Georgia. When the UNM controlled parliament, for example, the Christian Democrat party was effectively a satellite party. This strategy may have also been at play in some of the splits from the United National Movement. Both Girchi and New Georgia, after splitting off from the UNM, were able to immediately open up a large number of offices throughout the country. It remains unclear where the money came from to afford such a significant expense.

The proposed electoral reforms could face opposition from civil society, and President Giorgi Margvelashvili could veto them. However, the Georgian Dream holds a constitutional majority in Georgian parliament, meaning it could overturn a veto, as MPs did in response to past vetoes.

For Georgia’s democratic political system to become stronger, the consolidation of parties, not further fragmentation, is needed. The proposed changes to the electoral system are unlikely to encourage consolidation, and instead seem to provide lots of incentives to encourage the continued fragmentation of the political landscape. At best, the proposed changes are two steps forward and one step back. At worst, they could squash political competition in Georgia.

To view the data used in this article, click here.

[Note: This post was originally published on Liberali in Georgian and on Eurasianet in English. Dustin Gilbreath is a Policy Analyst at CRRC-Georgia. David Sichinava is a Senior Policy Analyst at CRRC-Georgia.]