Transport minister Marios Demetriades said on Monday he was optimistic that the government, together with parliament, can find a way to release funds allowing plans to go ahead to commercialise services at Larnaca port.
In early December, during the review of the 2017 state budget, opposition parties blocked a government expenditure of €1.37 million for the contracting of consultancy services for privatisation projects.
Consultants would have advised the government on how to draft specifications for tenders and helped in the evaluation of these. Without the funds earmarked to hire privatisation consultants, the procedure for Larnaca port could not go forward, the transport minister warned.
With the funds blocked, the government may submit a supplementary budget, but it must wait at least six months to do so after passage of the state budget – meaning no earlier than June 2017.
In turn, that upsets the government’s plans for Larnaca, since the deadline set for submissions of expressions of interest for the commercialisation of the town’s port was February 3, 2017.
The matter was discussed at an extraordinary session of the House transport committee.
Committee chair Georgios Procopiou (Diko) said there were now two possible workarounds.
The first solution would be for the House plenum, which reconvenes on January 20 after the break, to vote on a legislative proposal clearing the €1.37 million.
Under the constitution, parliament is prohibited from increasing state expenditures. However, Procopiou suggested some legal loophole could be found, since it could be argued that the funds in question had been appropriated previously – so that including them now would not amount to increasing the state budget.
And MPs understand that the president would not veto such a bill coming from parliament.
Alternatively, the €1.37 million could be inserted into the budget of the Cyprus Ports Authority.
For his part, the transport minister said he was confident the matter relating to Larnaca port can be resolved.
“It is an extremely important project for Larnaca, which the government wants to implement as soon as possible,” he said.
It was crucial to resolve the issue swiftly, he stressed, as companies who expressed a preliminary interest in redeveloping Larnaca’s port and marina were already asking whether the competition was still on.
He spoke of three to four “serious organisations” that have expressed an interest in the project.
Under the original timetable, the transport ministry would notify those deemed eligible to submit bids by early March 2017. The successful bidder was expected to be selected by August 2017.
The redevelopment of the Larnaca port and marina – which among others would see berthing capacity increase to 1,000 from 350 currently – is supported by local residents eager for money to pour into the town.