The ministry of agriculture offered to mediate on Monday in a financial dispute over waste treatment fees pitting the district council of Larnaca and Famagusta against the municipalities of Paralimni and Ayia Napa.
The ministry intervened after the district council – through which payments are made to the waste treatment facility in Koshi, operated by a private company – issued an ultimatum to Paralimni and Ayia Napa, warning that trucks would stop collecting waste from these two municipalities on September 30.
But the mayors of Paralimni and Ayia Napa remained defiant.
“It’s an empty threat, but let them try it. No one has the right to deny essential services, like garbage collection, whatever the circumstances,” Paralimni mayor Theodoros Pyrillides told the Cyprus Mail.
“If the collection of waste ceases, our response will be robust,” he said, but did not elaborate.
The dispute relates to the fallout from a March 2018 deal between the state and the operator of the Koshi waste treatment site.
Following a scandal over overpricing by the operator – a company by the name of Helector – and subsequent criminal trials establishing that local officials took bribes, the government struck an interim agreement with Helector, revising the waste treatment tarriffs.
Under the revised deal, the municipalities of Larnaca and Famagusta were to pay €36 per tonne of waste, down from €68 previously. The €36 per tonne fee applied to invoices as of end-November 2017.
The contract with Helector is set to expire later this year or beginning of 2020.
For several years up to November 2017, Paralimni and Ayia Napa had stopped paying waste treatment fees altogether, on the grounds that the contract with Helector was itself tainted, as established in court findings.
The state ended up paying all the amounts due to Helector, although with the renegotiation of the tariffs the government paid about €17m instead of €29m.
A district council was set up for the combined districts of Larnaca and Famagusta (including Ayia Napa and Paralimni) to collect fees and reroute them to the operator of the waste treatment facility.
Now, the mayor of Aradippou, who presides over the council, says that Paralimni and Ayia Napa should reimburse the council for the fees (approximately €4m combined) which these two municipalities had declined to pay for a number of years up until November 2017.
Aradippou mayor Evangelos Evangelides argues that the situation is unfair to the rest of the municipalities, who during those years had continued to pay the Koshi site.
But Paralimni and Ayia Napa counter that they have no such obligation to the district council, because when the state paid off municipalities’ debts, it did so all in one go.
“The cabinet decision to pay off the waste treatment dues did not include a breakdown of what each municipality owed. The state simply covered the entire amount all at once, and it was understood that the matter was closed,” Pyrillis said.
“Now the district council claims we owe it money. We do not, nor we do recognise their authority. We have decided to deal directly with the ministry of agriculture.”
The Paralimni and Ayia Napa municipalities are currently in litigation with the district council.
The two municipalities have another grievance against the district council. They complain about having to pay a 3 per cent administrative charge to fund the ‘green points’ of the district council as a whole.
Pyrillis says that Paralimni already self-funds its own green points and asks why it should also finance the green points of the other municipalities in the conglomerate.
“Every municipality should just finance its own green points, period.”
Meantime Pyrillis says the district council is loaded with representatives from the Larnaca district, while Paralimni and Ayia Napa have only one delegate on the body.
“That’s why we want to break away and form our own separate council, Paralimni with Ayia Napa. But the district council is blocking our move until we settle what they claim we owe them.”