Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said on Saturday that a new round of consultations would be launched on the reform of local government as the existing system is no longer functioning.
Speaking at the Pancyprian conference on local government in Pervolia, Larnaca, Petrides said there are currently 30 municipalities and 350 communities in Cyprus.
“It is impossible for a minister to address the so many demands filed by local authorities,” he said. The existing system, he said, “has stopped functioning”.
This is why, Petrides said, local government reform is imperative so that there is not such a heavy reliance on the central state.
A number of government bills for local government reform have been languishing in parliament. The government’s proposal involves reducing the number of municipalities, creating ‘clusters’ of district authorities and streamlining services such as water and sewerage. The stated aim is to reducing operating costs via consolidation.
“Cyprus is too small to have 380 local authorities with such powers,” Petrides said.
He referred to the many efforts that had also been made by the previous administration, studies were made by Greek, British and Italian experts, “which showed different approaches to the reform of local government. All scenarios could work but there were different approaches”.
Petrides also referred to bills drafted by the government that have been before parliament since 2015: “Repeated debates are being made to find common ground to make things work, not create more distortions, but rather remove the existing distortions and make an important step in the reform of local government.
“Unfortunately, this has not become possible,” Petrides aid.
He added that as regards the bill on municipalities there are significant differences between the three major parties in the House and other approaches from the smaller parties which could not be bridged.
The government’s position on the bill is “clear”, he said.
“We are ready to make concessions, and there have been concessions, but we consider one of the main problems that afflict the citizens, one of the main problems that creates distortions, corruption and the scattering of resources that could be left to local authorities is that in a country like Cyprus we cannot have 10 town planning and 36 construction authorities,” Petrides said.
Due to their size, he said, it is impossible for all building authorities to have the know-how, resources, capability, efficiency and shielding from local interests, so that they act effectively in a single context.
Petrides said that it is possible to relaunch another consultation cycle, “see what we really agree on, where we disagree, for the reform of the local government to carry on”.
“I hope that with goodwill from everyone, in this new round of consultations that we are launching with the parties, we will come up with something that will take the country, the communities, the municipalities and the citizens ahead,” Petrides said.
The latest report by the audit office on local government released this week said the current situation in local government is not sustainable and therefore its restructuring ought to be a top priority for the government and the legislature.
Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides said that the existence of so many municipalities and communities leads to squandering of public funds.