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Cyprus

Municipal reform stirs up a storm

Former Interior Minister Socratis Hasicos

By George Psyllides

THE union of municipalities and political parties yesterday dismissed draft legislation put together by the interior ministry aiming to reform local government.

In a written statement, the union said the draft essentially abolished local authorities, something that did not serve the objective of upgrading services with the lower possible cost.

“It is clear that the creation of second-tier local authorities and other complex procedures provided for in the bill will entail additional costs instead of the necessary savings,” the union said.

Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos unveiled the bill on Thursday.

Produced with the advice of foreign experts, it provides for the creation of second-tier bodies of local government, taking powers away from municipalities and giving them to the new bodies – one for each of the five districts.

For example, the Nicosia district, which has eight municipalities, would have all the services provided by each one separately transferred to the second-tier authority and thus slashing operating costs.

The union said the changes were not supported by any data that proved the economies of scale.

The union reiterated the need for a thorough study based on the principle of clustering – the path that leads to improvement in services and savings.

The union said it was prepared to enter a productive dialogue with the government and political parties to reach a final draft whose objective would be to serve the public.

Even ruling DISY rejected the bill.

Party leader Averof Neophytou said it did not serve the goals of cutting spending while improving services.

“Instead of saving resources, in the end we will have an increase in expenses, which will be saddled on non-privileged citizens,” Neophytou said.

He was echoed by main opposition AKEL, which also accused Hasikos of drafting the bill without any dialogue.

“Instead of decentralisation and proximity, they create hydrocephalus organisations that our era has left behind,” MP Yiannos Lamaris said.

Hasikos responded with a written statement in which he stressed that the draft was a basis for dialogue. He said based on available data, the changes would save between €40m and €50m or 20 per cent a year.

Hasikos said 50 per cent of municipalities’ operating expenses concerned salaries and integrating them into district councils would mean huge savings.

The minister said the draft provides for five sector heads for five district councils and not 30 municipalities.

The move will also mean less personnel – between 15 per cent and 20 per cent – and up to €26m less spending per year for municipalities alone.

Excess personnel can take early retirement or be transferred to other state departments.

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