LAST JANUARY, British consultants from the National School of Government International (NSGI) released the report commissioned by the Cyprus government on how to reform the system of local administration. The consultants submitted several alternative proposals, the main point of which was the need to drastically reduce the number of municipalities of which there are currently 30, not to mention nine representing occupied towns and villages; there are also 370 community councils.
Five municipalities, covering the five districts of Cyprus, was the main proposal of NSGI which sparked opposition from everyone involved. Interior minister Socratis Hasikos immediately rejected the idea, saying he did not believe reducing the number to five would work. The president of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, Famagusta mayor Alexis Galanos fully agreed, finding weaknesses in the NSGI study and accusing the government of giving in too easily to the diktats of the troika.
Some mayors accused the NSGI consultants of not meeting with them to get their views, as if there was anything they could say to justify the ridiculous number of municipalities. The truth is, we did not need any consultants to tell us that the number of municipalities was way out of proportion to our population. Nor did we need them to tell us that fewer local authorities would be more effective and much less costly to run than the current system which exists solely to serve the political parties and their clients.
Unhappy with the NSGI report, the Union of Municipalities commissioned a second study by an Italian organisation, in the hope it could be used to counter the proposals made by the first. The Italian experts’ proposals are not very different from those of their British counterparts. They also suggested reducing the number of municipalities – to 12 instead of five – but believed this should be done in stages. At the first stage the number would be reduced to 22 and at the second stage to 12. In short, they also agreed that there were too many municipalities and saw no other way to reduce costs than through a drastic cut in their number.
There are bound to be reactions from political parties and mayors who stand to lose their posts, but what is the alternative? Will the Union keep commissioning studies until one of them suggests that we keep all 30 municipalities? The fact is that under the terms of the memorandum, the government is obliged to cut its spending on local authorities. Whether we like it or not, this can only happen by reducing the number of municipalities and inevitably cutting jobs. At present, 75 per cent of the state’s local government budget goes on staff wages and pensions. Should we cut the 25 per cent of the budget that is used for infrastructure projects in order to keep 30 over-staffed municipalities?