Mandatory clustering of municipalities and local authorities, bringing the total number of municipalities down by eight to 22, and postponing December’s municipal elections to coincide with elections for the European parliament in 2019, were among Interior minister Socratis Hasikos’ proposals for local government reform before the House interior committee on Tuesday.
Addressing committee members, Hasikos said the government’s proposed reform constitutes an “overhaul” of the current regime, and what is being sought is “radical reform”.
“This isn’t merely an improvement, it is radical reform – it the overhaul of existing legislation on local government,” he said.
“This bill has gone through every stage of consultation, and views were exchanged between parliament and the government.”
But a bill, Hasikos added, cannot be thought of as “passed and done with”. Instead, where it is found lacking, it can be improved through amendment.
“There is the will and the time, because the make-up of the Interior committee has changed, for a final read-through and a final consultation, and that’s why we are here today,” the Interior ministry noted.
“The main purpose of the bills is to create regional clusters of local government, strengthening the system and focusing on transparency and modernisation. Its key feature is the mandatory clustering of services, instead of leaving local authorities to their own devices to agree or opt to cooperate with each other.”
Hasikos said that he is certain that all stakeholders agree on the need for this reform to press ahead, as well as the principle of mandatory clustering and joint services offered.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Hasikos said that even if the bill is passed, it can’t be implemented in a vacuum, without regulations.
“Therefore, time will be required to draft the regulations, and it will also take time to do all the rest, like replacing the existing sewerage boards per the provisions of the new legislation,” he said.
“The Cypriot taxpayer will taste this overhaul, this serious reform, and what we said today is that we need to be clearer with regard to the reduction of municipalities. We have suggested that municipalities be reduced from 30 to 22 in the first phase with the start of the reform, which we see as coinciding with the elections. So people will be asked to vote for 22 mayors and municipal councils, not 30.”
On the issue of pushing the municipal elections back so they can be held simultaneously with the European parliament elections, Hasikos said “no one dares ask for the postponement”.
“I told the committee that it is going to take time for us to be ready, and because someone needs to take initiative, I will not shy away from it – that is, passing the reform bill and, if there is consensus by the parliamentary parties, voting for a postponement so that municipal and European parliament elections coincide,” he said.
“If parliament votes not to have the municipal elections, which are pushed back to the European parliament elections, that is its prerogative, and, in my opinion, its obligation, if we are to do a proper job of reforming local government.”