After many years of parliamentary deliberations and multiple conducted studies, the time is now ripe to press on with a radical reform of Cyprus’ local government structure, Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said on Thursday.
“Several studies have been conducted in recent years, which all conclude that the number of Cyprus municipalities is too large,” Petrides said after a meeting with the Union of Cyprus Municipalities.
The conditions have matured, he said, to not only merge a number of municipalities, but to also create economically autonomous municipalities with modern administrative structures and additional executive powers.
“Today there are about 380 local authorities in the Republic of Cyprus: 30 municipalities and 350 communities. This number, and the fragmentation involved, deters the operation of truly autonomous administrative entities at the local level, that can have real power, know-how and resources to serve citizens, who are the real victims,” Petrides said.
The finance ministry on Monday approved a budget of €30,000 to draw up a policy document on local government reform and the reduction of the number of municipalities from 30 to 16. The timetable set by the interior ministry for this reduction is January 2022, while the document is expected to be ready by January 2019.
This new push from the interior ministry stems from the need to consider alternative options for the restructuring and modernisation of local government, especially since a bill tabled in parliament in 2015, foreseeing the creation of five provincial clusters, has yet to be referred to the plenum for voting.
The study seeks to determine the municipalities to be merged and to set the legal framework for this.
“Regarding municipalities,” Petrides said, “part of the inadequacy of the current system lies in the rampant increase in the number of municipalities in the past, which occurred in the name of decentralisation, but which did not take into account the rules ensuring that such a project remains effective and viable.”
Another concern is the economic viability of municipalities as the latest financial risk report, released in September by the finance ministry, shows that most are in a poor financial state with heightened risks, particularly due to loans and other liabilities, which the state may be required to pay if a local authority is unable to.
“Municipalities are dependent on state funding mainly because of their inability by law to raise their own resources. Mergers will also bring significant savings, but for the smooth running of municipalities additional financial sources are needed, especially if local governments will be assigned additional powers,” the minister said.
Beyond the restructuring of municipal administrations, Petrides highlighted that the expected local government reform is a bigger and more complex project: “It also aims to conglomerate the services of the many communities, as well as to create new, adequate administrative structures in the suburbs, where one third of the population lives.”
The interior ministry seeks to create less than 40 autonomous administrative service clusters in the suburbs, while preserving the identity of the 350 communities that Cyprus currently has.
“Local government reform also addresses important environmental and public health issues such as water management, waste management and sewerage management,” Petrides said.
“After years of discussion, I hope that we will arrive along with the union of municipalities by the end of the year at the necessary agreements needed to complete the effort,” Petrides said.