WHEN two weeks ago Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos submitted the government bill to postpone the local authority elections scheduled for December, this column had asked whether he had secured the support of any of the political parties, which had already began the campaigning. We doubted the parties would have approved such a bill, less than two months before the elections even though it made perfect sense, given that it would allow time for the reform of local government.
The government plan is to merge municipalities, reducing them from 30 to 22 and set up district bodies to handle much of the administrative work now done by each municipality. This would not only rationalise local government but also save money, most of which goes on salaries and pensions. The main reason for having such a ludicrously large number of municipalities was the creation of more public sector jobs for the political parties to distribute among their supporters. The need for reform was included in the memorandum of understanding with the international lenders.
Predictably the parties made it clear they would not approve the government bill. This prompted Hasikos to go back with another bill last week that would reduce the term of mayors and municipal councils to two-and-a-half years, by which time the changes would have been ready for implementation. Nobody could accuse the government of being undemocratic as they had been after the submission of the first bill, but again the political parties flatly refused to discuss the new bill.
The money-saving mergers will now have to wait until the next municipal elections in 2021, which means the taxpayers’ money will carry on being squandered unnecessarily for an extra two-and-a-half years. What do the parties care, it is not their money. They would rather that tens of millions of euros were wasted for no rational reason – they had nothing to lose from a shorter term. They just they wanted to create problems for the government. This is the despicably irresponsible and immature way in which politics is practised.
The outrage is that the hapless taxpayer always has to pick up the bill for this political irresponsibility, which cannot even be attributed to the primary consideration of the parties when making decisions – populism. The public was not opposed to a one-off shorter term and no interest groups had protested, but the parties decided that snubbing the government was well worth the money that will now be criminally wasted. Our parties have always been destructive rather than constructive forces. It is one of the reasons why we do not progress as a country.