WHAT the government called a “crucial step” towards local authority reform was given the green light by the union of municipalities on Saturday but trouble could still be brewing as some communities are digging their heels in when it comes to merging with others.
As late as the eve of the meeting on Saturday, Peyia residents and local council warned they were opposed to merging with any of the surrounding communities because it would constitute a “downgrade”.
The reforms will ideally see the number of municipalities cut in half, from 30 to 15, with broader powers and more funds granted to local authorities. The final decision on who will merge with who lies with the government.
The draft legislation for the reform package was passed by the municipalities on Saturday by 77 votes in favour and two abstentions at an extraordinary meeting. “The members of the general assembly have adopted the general provisions of the legislation as we have negotiated with the ministry of the interior,” head of the union of municipalities and Larnaca mayor Andreas Vyras said.
Municipal leaders also decided to vote against holding local referendums for their residents in terms of the upcoming mergers. This issue was settled during a second vote, which saw 50 oppose the idea of referendums while 25 voted in favour.
Vyras said the bill on reforms would now head to the attorney general’s office for examination, after which Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides would announce which municipalities would merge. The bill will then head to parliament for a vote.
Speaking on Saturday’s decision Petrides said it was “extremely important” the union of municipalities had agreed on the draft legislation. “Today’s decision is crucial to modernising the state because without a strong local government we can’t call ourselves a modern state,” Petrides said.
He added a “gigantic effort” was made on the part of the ministry in conjunction with the local authorities to agree on the reforms. “We have worked quietly with the municipalities’ union, held dozens of meetings and covered all the issues, and powers the local authorities should have,” he said.
Petrides said they also touched on issues, which had been left unanswered for many years or were never discussed in the past. “The obvious was also made clear, which is that the existing fragmentation is incompatible with strong European local communities.”
Some municipalities have already reached an agreement among themselves to merge, as in the case of Ayia Napa, Sotira, and Liopetri in the Famagusta district but the final decision will be down to the government.
Commenting after the meeting on municipalities already in agreement and potential problems, Ayia Napa mayor Yiannis Karousos told the Sunday Mail “Where there is agreement, the state should take it into account.”
Karousos has fought hard against Ayia Napa being merged with bigger neighbour Paralimni. Recently in a joint news release, he and the leaders of Sotira and Liopetri agreed to send a letter to the government expressing their wish to merge.
“The unification of Ayia Napa, Sotira and Liopetri will create the largest tourist municipality in Cyprus with an active population exceeding 50,000,” they said.
Ayia Napa is not alone in opposing certain mergers. On the other side of the island on Friday night Peyia residents said they were against merging with other municipalities in the area.
The municipal council at a meeting decided unanimously they were against any plans to ‘downgrade’ Peyia and they would resist any attempts to merge the municipality with Kissonerga, Chlorakas, Emba, Lemba, or even Paphos itself.
They said the municipality of Peyia was big enough to stand alone. It has over 9,000 homes and more than 700 businesses, and there are about 15,000 permanent residents within the municipality, it said, adding that in the summer the number of seasonal visitors can push the population to 50,000.