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Our View: Parties have turned local authority reform into a bad joke

When Cyprus was in the assistance programme, one of the main recommendations of the Troika was the reform of the local government system, which was a huge drain on state finances while offering very little in return to the citizens it was supposed to serve. We have an absurdly large number of municipalities, for the size of our population – 30 municipalities for 850,000 people – employing excessive numbers of workers and providing a very basic level of service to people.

The Anastasiades government undertook the radical reform of the system, called in different groups of experts from abroad to advise how this should be done and finally came up with a proposal. The first proposal, submitted in 2015 was rejected by the legislature, on the grounds there would be municipal elections the following year, so the government returned to the drawing board and engaged in long consultations with the Union of Municipalities as well as individual local authorities to discuss the mergers it was proposing.

The original thinking was to halve the number of municipalities through mergers, but this gave rise to endless rows, a number of mayors unwilling to have their municipality abolished; they were supported by political parties creating major problems for the government. After months of haggling the Union of Municipalities government settled on 17 instead of the original 14. They also agreed that town planning decisions would be taken by the district authorities while building permits would be issued by the municipality.

The relevant bills have been with the House interior committee for about a year and although the plan was to get them approved before the end of 2020 this did not happen. On Monday, attending a meeting of the committee on the bills, it was revealed the parties wanted an increase of the municipalities to 21, which would make a mockery of the proposed reform. Even on such a straightforward matter – reform which would benefit the taxpayer, boost local democracy, improve services to citizens and make local authorities economically viable – the political parties are incapable of acting in a responsible and constructive way, even less so, five months before parliamentary elections.

What can the government do? It could try to secure enough votes in the legislature to get its bills through, but if it fails, it should not give in to the parties that have turned municipal reform into a bad joke. It should avoid any more haggling and consider withdrawing the bills, if this is possible, and wait for the new parliament before it submits them again. Agreeing to 21 municipalities would make the government responsible for this reforms parody.

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