Lawmakers are planning a big push to pass three bills relating to local government reform by October, though a number of tricky issues remain to be resolved.
The government is keen to see the ambitious legislation passed by early autumn, envisioning that the process of local government reform will take until around May 2024 to be completed. It is therefore proposing that the next municipal and community elections take place on the same day as the ballot for the May 2024 European Parliament, thus saving on costs.
In that case, currently serving municipal councils would stay in place until then, effectively extending their term in office by about two-and-a-half years. The last mayoral and community leader elections were held in December 2016. Normally they’re held every five years, so without any changes the next ballot would have taken place in December 2021.
But certain parties, like Diko, want these elections to be held as scheduled in 2021, and then again in 2024. Main opposition Akel have likewise telegraphed their opposition to delaying the elections for community leaders and their councils.
Following a session of the House interior affairs committee on Monday, committee chair Eleni Mavrou (Akel) cited this coming October as the cutoff for passage of the legislation, otherwise “the chance will be missed.”
She recalled how it has already been 10 years since the very first bills to reform local government were submitted.
Mavrou told daily Politis she intends to expedite the process by appointing a special sub-committee dealing exclusively with the matter. In addition, stakeholders – such as municipalities and local communities – have been asked to submit binding positions in writing, to avoid more drawn-out debates in parliament.
The committee will begin an article-by-article discussion of the reform bills on June 22. Parliament normally breaks for the summer recess in mid-July, but House President Demetris Syllouris has proposed pushing this back to end of July, affording MPs more time. Precious time was lost due to the closures related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Whereas all parties pay lip service to the need for reform, a few bumps on the road are expected once MPs get into the nitty-gritty.
Certain local communities oppose their merger with other communities or their absorption into municipalities. Under the government blueprint, the number of municipalities would be slashed by around half; and most of the some 300 communities would conglomerate into clusters, with around 50 merging with municipalities.
The stated objective of the endeavour is to achieve economies of scale, where some powers of the central government – like issuing planning permits – would devolve to local authorities.
Another issue is that the legislation does not stipulate the holding of referendums to allow residents to decide the fate of their community. The government has rejected the notion of plebiscites, arguing they would be too time-consuming and that, in any case, that stakeholders have had many chances to give their feedback.
As the legislation stands, each new municipality will run a municipal police force. Also, coastal municipalities will be given control over developments on beachfronts.
But according to Mavrou, there remain several vague points relating to the extent of the powers to be devolved to local authorities.