The plan to reform local administration essentially means restructuring the role of central government, Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said on Tuesday, highlighting the scale of the changes, which were not limited to mergers, as some people thought.
“What we are redesigning through this reform is not local administration but is also the role of the central state and this should be fully understood,” the minister said.
Speaking after a meeting with the union of municipalities, Petrides said the government wanted to make local administrations the public’s first point of reference in a bid to cut red tape.
“Local societies, governments, must have powers and authorities they don’t have today, they must have resources they don’t have today, they must have administrative autonomy they don’t have today, and the local leader shouldn’t be just the person who brings the demands to the minister and fully rely on the central state’s capability or disposition to construct infrastructure projects for him.”
The minister said he discussed the 180-page draft legislation with the union and would now expect their views before sending it for processing and then on to parliament.
The plan includes a reduction of the current number of the 30 municipalities to about half, a provision that is opposed by many local leaders.
“Unfortunately, the discussion has focused on which municipality will merge with which,” the minister said of Tuesday’s meeting.
But he sought to put things in perspective, suggesting that local administration was not collapsing “because it never existed.”
Petrides said the mergers were needed for the scheme to work as there must be larger administrative entities that will have the capacity and resources to exercise their authorities effectively.
He said studies have shown that smaller municipalities provided services at double the cost.
The plan presented by the ministry provides for about 15 municipalities and also includes rules on future mergers with adjacent communities or a merger between communities and their conversion into a municipality.
The municipalities will be granted the administration of state facilities such as nurseries, nursing homes, etc, as well as powers relating to public transport that can act as supplementary to the current system.
They will also be granted more planning authorities and take over a number of permits currently issued by district administrations.
Municipalities will be obliged to draft and approve balanced or surplus budgets, in line with legislation governing fiscal issues.
They will also be required to publish on their websites, information on a number of financial and administrative issues for transparency and accountability purposes.