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Our View: Parties have turned the real meaning of local government into a big joke

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos

IT WOULD have been a very big surprise if the government’s draft bill for the reform of local government, unveiled by interior minister Socratis Hasikos last week, was welcomed by the political parties. After all, the bill would dismantle the local government structure created by the political parties with the sole objective of creating jobs and political positions for their supporters, who miss out in the distribution of the other, more attractive, spoils of powers.

The Union of Municipalities – as would have been expected – and all the parties, including the pro-government DISY, have slammed the proposed reforms that would create a second tier of local government and leave the municipalities without real powers. It would all greatly reduce the number of municipal jobs because most services provided by each municipality would be provided by five bodies – one for each district – run by central government.

For instance, all responsibilities of the eight Nicosia municipalities would be transferred to the Nicosia district office which would be doing all the local authority work. Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos estimates that this would save the government some 40 to 50 million euro a year, although the parties have disputed this arguing, quite implausibly, that costs would increase. It is difficult to see how this would happen when services are merged a local government would be served by 40 per cent fewer staff.

The only valid argument of the political parties was that municipalities would become powerless, something that went against EU thinking regarding decentralisation of power. The EU wants more central government powers to be passed on to local authorities because this would ensure more representative democracy. In principle, this is right, but in Cyprus this will not happen because the parties, that have no sense of measure and are incapable of taking rational policy decisions, turned the idea of local government into a big joke.

They established an unsustainable number of municipalities so they could maximise the number of official posts and public jobs available for their supporters. The result has been overstaffed, heavily indebted bodies that are on the verge of bankruptcy and need continuous bailing out by the taxpayer. And the parties have a nerve to complain that the proposed changes would mean poorer service to citizens, when the primary reason for the existence of municipalities was to serve party clientele rather than the citizens.

Hasikos has invited the political parties to a dialogue about the reforms in the vain hope he would secure enough support to get the proposal through parliament by the end of the year, as had been agreed with the troika. Hoping that the parties which created the problem would make a constructive contribution towards fixing it seem a tad optimistic, but the minister does not seem to have much choice in the matter.

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