Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said Thursday he will be launching a fresh initiative with political parties aiming at pushing through the reform of local authorities by 2021, a matter discussed for years without any results.
Speaking before the House watchdog committee, Petrides said the government was not dogmatic on the issue but it had to set two conditions: “Achieve consensus on one hand, but the system must be functional. We should not create other distortions.”
Petrides said he planned to launch a fresh round of talks with parties and soon he would have specific proposals to table before them.
“I believe the conditions are ripe, we all realise now the areas where there were disagreements in the past, and local authority reform must go ahead.”
The minister said the timeframe was the next local elections.
The minister said it was everyone’s conclusion that the large number of authorities hindered regulation, effectiveness, and proper provision of services.
“We have also noted that larger, more viable structures were needed, that could incorporate mechanisms of internal audit and effectiveness.”
Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides said the current situation was not viable and should be changed.
He told MPs that administration was inadequate and, in many cases, it had led to criminal probes and legal procedures.
“It is obvious that there is a waste of public money,” and this was a result of the fragmentation of services, Michaelides said.
Larnaca Mayor Andreas Vyras, who also chairs the union of municipalities, agreed that the current system precluded them from becoming modern organisations or establish effective internal audit departments.
“We firmly believe that the current model of local administration cannot continue,” Vyras said.
The head of the union of communities, Andreas Kitromilides said they were in favour of grouping their services and have been doing so unofficially for several years.
Local authority reform has been discussed for years to no avail.
Former interior minister Socratis Hasikos had said repeatedly that the local authority model implemented in Cyprus was dated and there was an excessively large number of municipalities – 39 including nine so-called refugee municipalities — with costly departments.
There are also 350 local communities, which are separate legal entities.
Hasikos had pushed hard to pass bills through parliament before the last election in 2016 but they were eventually shelved and not just because of disagreements over the provisions.
Hasicos said at the time that centrist parties like Diko and Edek had refused due to political reasons.
In July last year, the government decided to use around €185m of taxpayer money to bail out indebted local authorities.
The move has raised eyebrows as they are viewed as a bottomless pit, used by political parties throughout the years as vehicles for featherbedding.
Local authorities are plagued by several problems, as highlighted in successive reports by the auditor-general.
They include cash-flow problems, big delays in debt collections, loans in excess of €300m for some, failure to submit accounts within the period specified by law, non-existent audit procedures and debts to pension funds in excess of €150m.