The government on Monday formally presented to parliament the question to be put in a single, island-wide referendum on the issue of local government reform, and urged MPs to “act responsibly” warning that any delays in implementing the reform drive could put EU funds at stake.
Earlier, opposition parties had thrown a spanner in the works by suggesting individual referendums should be held by communities to decide whether they wanted the reform, which includes mergers.
The project provides for sweeping changes in local authority operation, including cutting the number of municipalities from 30 to 17 and merging hundreds of communities to achieve economies of scale.
The government said having individual communities reject the bill after it is passed by parliament would essentially nullify the reform, as it would render it unenforceable.
Subsequently the cabinet approved a proposal to hold a single plebiscite together with the parliamentary elections on May 30.
On Monday Interior Minister Nicos Nouris presented to MPs the question on the referendum poll: “Do you agree with the local authority reform on the basis of the government proposal for the creation of 17 new municipalities with administrative and financial independence?”
Speaking to reporters after briefing the House interior affairs committee, Nouris said parliament must now vote on whether to approve or reject this question, as is. No amendments to the referendum question are possible – a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
Nouris harangued some parties for seeking to “evade” the issue at this time.
“Nevertheless, I think now is the time for everyone to take responsibility…This is no time for slogans, nor is it the time – by invoking so-called questions – to attempt to postpone certain important decisions.”
All the more so, he added, given that the European Commission has linked Cyprus’ implementation of local government reform to the disbursement of funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
Should the plenum give the nod to the referendum question, the minister said, then the government will run a campaign up to May 30 informing the public of what the reform drive entails.
Asked what happens if the House gives the government proposal the thumbs-down, Nouris said: “Nothing changes as regards the reform. Either way the reform bills will as a matter of fact be referred to the new parliament [constituted after the elections]. But what changes is the possibility of having a referendum.”
On how much Cyprus stands to receive from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, Nouris said €968 million overall.
But of that, €130 million concerns disbursements tied to local government reform.
According to Nouris, the European Commission has telegraphed to the government that if by the date of the parliamentary elections no plebiscite has taken place, then the process will be suspended until the outcome of the ballot is known.