AYIA Napa Mayor Yiannis Karousos has asked for an emergency meeting of the Union of Municipalities in a bid to put a halt to the intention of abolishing a number of local authorities as part of plans to reform the bankrupt sector.
In a letter to the chairman of the union, Karousos said there was a sense that municipalities were divided into two camps – those that will benefit from the reform and gain full control of the new entities and those which will be wronged.
Many of the island’s 30 municipalities – 39 including occupied jurisdictions – are cash-strapped and heavily indebted and the government is toying with the idea of cutting them in half and merging their services to make the system sustainable.
The plan is opposed by several mayors, including Karousos, who suggested that some of his counterparts were trying to achieve mergers so that they become small or large metropoles with full control of decision-making and those who tried to protect their municipalities, their finances, their characteristics, and their history.
Karousos said the union had decided previously to reform the sector on the basis of clustering services and not mergers.
“This decision remains unchanged to date and no union representative can express a different view when representing the union,” he said.
However, he added, the decision is not being observed by a lot of the members of the union’s executive committee, sending the wrong message that it was in favour of the mergers.
The mayor of the popular holiday resort said President Nicos Anastasiades had pledged that no municipalities would be abolished and the union should not accept mergers or demotions.
He also urged the union to reject the interior minister’s principle that reducing municipalities was not an end in itself but a necessary condition.
“The mandatory reduction of municipalities serves no one and will not improve service to residents but on the contrary it will drastically reduce immediacy,” he said.
In July 2017, the government decided to use around €185m of taxpayer money to bail out indebted local authorities.
Local authorities are mostly viewed as a bottomless pit, used by political parties throughout the years as vehicles for featherbedding, without providing quality services and serving to worsen bureaucracy in certain cases, like construction.
They are plagued by several problems, as highlighted in successive reports by the auditor-general, including cashflow, 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.