Discussion on local government reform bills continued Thursday with stakeholders urged to be sensible about their demands and focus on the big picture, which is the need for reforms.
The House interior committee discussed the bills in the presence of local government representatives, with the goal of wrapping up consultations by the end of November.
Head of the committee, Akel MP Aristos Damianou, said after the meeting it was necessary to implement the reforms as the existing, outdated system does not serve people and needs to be modernised.
“It is well-known there are few but important issues that are open and we will focus also on these,” he said.
Damianou called on all stakeholders to consider the weight of their responsibility, saying that they cannot fit every demand, into a reform package. “We need to see the big picture and the big picture is that we need reform,” he added.
He said the committee will continue discussion on the bills next week, building on what has already been agreed on while they have also decided to make the sessions longer.
Disy MP Nicos Sykas pointed out that the local government reform is linked with funds Cyprus stands to receive from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. To achieve this, the reform needs to be implemented by May 2024.
“The reform is an insurmountable but also a national and social need,” Sykas said.
Edek MP Costis Efstathiou stated that his party’s position was to have the smallest number of municipalities possible. He also said Edek was in favour of the administrative and financial autonomy of the municipalities but also of residents’ representation in the various councils, municipal or district councils.
For Dipa MP Marinos Mousiouttas “fewer municipalities mean better quality of life for their residents”. He said his party was ready to submit proposals so that consensus could be reached for the reform to be passed by the House plenum but that they were also ready to make concessions if necessary to get things moving.
The reform that provides for sweeping changes in local authority operation, including cutting the number of municipalities from 30 to 17 and fusing hundreds of communities, has been discussed for around a decade. The stated aim of the reform drive is to achieve economies of scale and lower the cost of services, but several key issues have emerged throughout the process, such as some municipalities not wishing to merge and instead proposing their own plans.
Last month, the House plenum voted for the postponement of local government elections that would have taken place in December, pending the reform. Postponement of the elections means that existing municipal and community councils will continue serving their terms until May 2024.
To qualify for disbursements from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, Cyprus must by the end of 2021 pass reform legislation in three areas – one being local government. The other two are public administration reform and justice.