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Our View: Paralimni mayor’s outburst underlines need for municipal reform

Last week the audit service published the findings of an audit of Paralimni Municipality, listing a litany of irregularities and failures, and, as the service’s spokesman said, possible criminal offences. Mayor Theodoros Pirillis’ initial reaction was to launch a personal attack against Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides, challenging him to a public debate on the report. Failure to do so meant its contents were a fabrication, the mayor said.

He later sought to explain certain findings, but, according to the audit service, it only served to confirm what was reported.

Pirillis has since accused Michaelides of having ulterior motives and of trying to promote himself ahead of the 2023 presidential elections, forcing the auditor to issue a public denial he will stand for the post. The mayor also suggested people were out to harm Paralimni and him personally. Pirillis said the entire state machinery was out to get him because of his position on local authority reform. He even remembered a bomb attack against him in 2018, which remains unsolved, accusing the police of a cover-up.

The mayor’s reaction simply highlighted the urgent need for local administration reform. Discussions about overhauling the sector have been ongoing for around a decade with bills still languishing in parliament. Some political parties appear reluctant to agree to all the provisions, which will see municipalities reduced almost by half from 30 and hundreds of communities merge into larger jurisdictions to achieve economies of scale.

Opposition to the reform has been fierce in some areas, including Pirillis’. “The kingdoms started the attack to prevent the reform the country needs,” Constantinos Petrides said in 2018, while interior minister.

It has been more than obvious for years that having so many municipalities and communities, along with councilors and administrative staff, is unsustainable. In July 2017 the government had to bail out indebted local authorities to the tune of €185m. Apart from that being a waste of taxpayer money, in some cases local authorities have seen widespread corruption. The most high-profile cases concern two former Paphos mayors and one from Larnaca, along with several councilors, who were jailed for receiving kickbacks relating to sewage and waste management projects.

This is not to say that Pirillis is corrupt. His behaviour however, reflects the feudal lord mentality that prevails in some local administrations, especially those with high revenues mostly as a result of their location. Local authorities are generally viewed as a bottomless pit, used by political parties throughout the years as vehicles for featherbedding, without providing quality services and serving to worsen bureaucracy in certain cases, like construction.

However, no matter how far reaching, the reforms alone will not solve the problem if proper checks and balances are not put in place and more importantly if they are not properly enforced by the authorities.

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