There seems to be no end to the farcical saga of local authority reform. The only thing that everyone agreed on so far, was the postponement until 2024 of municipal elections, which were to be held next month, as this would extend the terms of serving mayors, councilors and community leaders by another three years.
Apart from this unsurprising unanimity, the reform drive, which has been going on for years, has been marked by endless disagreements and disputes at all levels. Municipalities do not want be merged, others want to choose which they will be merged with, some parties want to maintain municipalities they control, while Akel, ridiculously, wants each municipality to hold a separate referendum on the proposed reform. There will be a referendum but a national one, taking away the power of a single municipality to scupper the reform.
On Thursday the reform drive took a new twist when community leaders appeared at the House interior committee and said that community councils would resign en masse if their demands were not satisfied and also take legal action in courts at home and abroad. They had two demands – maintaining control of the water supply, which generated revenue for them, and not being merged with municipalities. Apparently, half of the 49 communities opposed being absorbed by municipalities. So, who would they be merged with if not municipalities?
All these issues are the direct result of the government’s misguided, consensual approach to reform which involved securing the support of stakeholders. No political expertise was needed to forecast that the desired consensus would not be achieved and the government would have to engage in endless horse-trading in order to get the reform approved. It has already increased the number of municipalities in its original proposal in order get the proposal through the interior committee.
There are still municipalities in the Paphos and Famagusta districts strongly opposing the government-proposed measures and some are threatening to take measures against the government just like the community leaders. If local government reform by a specific deadline, was not made a condition by the EU for the release of funds, it would not have been approved. Thanks to the EU it should eventually go through as no party would want to be held responsible for depriving the country of funds. What shape it will eventually take is another matter.
After this farcical search for consensus, the reform, which did not go far enough in the original form, proposed by the government, will fail to achieve the rationalistion and efficient management of resources it has as its objective. In a few years’ time, the reform of the local government will have to be revisited. Hopefully by then the government of the day will have understood radical change cannot be achieved through consensus.