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Our View: Local authority reform will be difficult but it must be done

Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides

IT IS encouraging that some progress is being made in the interior ministry’s attempts to streamline local government. Interior minister Constantinos Petrides on Wednesday met representatives of the Union of Community Councils who were, according to reports, very supportive of government plans to create administrative clusters that would take over the responsibilities of local councils.

A study, on the creation of 35 to 40 administrative clusters, was commissioned by the ministry and once it was completed, by November at the latest, the government will be in a position to announced a comprehensive reform plan, said Petrides. Each administrative cluster would take over rubbish collection and disposal, administrative and accounting services, maintenance of council buildings and the road network and certain healthcare-related services.

Clustering would not only save money but it would also rationalise administration, which is often left to community councils with neither the resources nor the know-how to deal with it. Delays of community councils submitting accounts and reports were regularly recorded in the auditor-general’s annual reports. It appears the Union of Community Council, is happy to be relieved of some administrative responsibilities, while its leader welcomed the minister’s pledge for projects to be funded out of the interior ministry’s budget.

What a shame, similar reform plans, for the cash-strapped, over-staffed and unviable municipalities, were vetoed by the political parties and will have to wait for years to be introduced. Too many political party members benefit from the excessive number of municipalities, either as mayors or councillors, even the latter collecting a monthly payment for attending one council meeting a month. It is not only the money. The surfeit of municipal councils means there are more positions for loyal party members. We should not forget that the big number of municipalities means a big number of public sector jobs to share out among the members of all parties.

The creation of administrative clusters of community councils is a small step in the right direction and it is still unclear whether the political parties would approve the legislation that would allow this to happen. However, the real challenge for the executive – probably the next government – is the reform of the municipalities, which are a drain on public finances, while offering very little to the people they are supposed to serve. How a government is supposed to go about reforming local government, given the opposition of most political parties, is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain – it has to be done.

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