By Angelos Anastasiou
DISAGREEMENTS between the interior ministry and the Larnaca and Famagusta municipalities on how to handle the high fees charged by the Koshi solid waste management plant came to a head yesterday, after the municipalities came to a joint decision to unilaterally reduce the fees payable.
Larnaca and Famagusta municipalities pay a fee of €68 per metric tonne at the Koshi plant, while Limassol municipalities were recently reported to pay approximately €16 per tonne.
Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos was furious at the unilateral measure and came out warning that if the protesting municipalities did not settle their bills with the plant immediately, he would deduct any dues from their next government subsidy.
“This is a mutiny,” he said. “What do they mean they won’t pay and will set their own prices?”
Hasikos said the government was in talks with the private company running the plant, negotiating a lower price, and the municipalities should be patient until the deliberations were over.
“The contract for this plant was the result of a scandal,” he said, referring to the agreement the previous government signed with the firm which prompted a probe by this administration. “The government will engage the firm in an effort to reduce the fees, but it only made sense for us to wait for the probe’s findings so that we can present the proper arguments. We are nearing the end of the negotiations.”
But, in case the carrot proved unconvincing, Hasikos also carried a big stick.
“Mutinies are not justified,” he said. “Yes, the fees are higher at this plant. But the municipalities need to pay their dues because their disobedience is not conducive to our negotiations.”
“If they don’t, they should know that any amounts due will be withheld from the government subsidy they receive, because the government serves as the project’s underwriter, meaning the cost will be borne by the Cypriot taxpayer.”
Hasikos’ threat did not go unnoticed by the protesting mayors, with Larnaca’s Andreas Louroudjiatis rejecting the Interior Minister’s arguments.
“Is it a mutiny when Larnaca and Famagusta citizens pay €68 per tonne and the rest of Cyprus pays €5 per tonne?” he wondered. “Is that a mutiny or is it inequality?”
Louroudjiatis argued that Hasikos’ threat was a hollow one, because some municipalities both in Larnaca and Famagusta receive a lower subsidy than what they owe the plant, and said that the negotiations Hasikos claimed were ongoing have produced unsatisfactory outcomes.
“The negotiations have ended, and fees were reduced,” he said. “They were even higher, at €103 per tonne and were reduced to €68.”
But in any case, Louroudjiatis said, the joint decision by the two municipalities was to pay all the dues up to this point, and only pay the reduced fee – €35 per tonne – from this point on.
“It’s a means of applying pressure so that things move even quicker,” he said.
Paralimni mayor Theodoros Pirillis was less diplomatic, railing against the government’s decision to decree that Larnaca and Famagusta use the Koshi plant.
“This was a deal made by the government with a private firm so that it could avoid heavy EU fines,” he argued. “But the cost has, instead, been passed on the citizens of Larnaca and Famagusta, who were ordered to use this plant.”
Pirillis said there should have been a national solid waste management body that would allow district councils to administer the plants, as the current system forces some municipalities to bear higher waste management costs than others through no fault of their own.
“Let Nicosia and Larnaca use Koshi for three years, and let Larnaca and Famagusta use Kotsiatis for three years – that will fix everything,” he said sarcastically. “The municipalities’ union is burying its head in the sand and everyone looks out for their own house, not caring whether their neighbour’s house is burning.”