In another twist, parties decided Monday to postpone to the new year a vote in the plenum on the local government reform bills, while at the same time avowing their support for the project.
It had earlier been agreed that Monday’s extraordinary session of the House interior committee would see the parties table their respective final positions on the matter, and also fix a day for taking the bills to the plenum for a vote – with the mooted date being December 20, the last chance before parliament went into recess.
Instead, and with more and more last-minute amendments added to the government bills, those plans were set aside. Now, the House committee will resume discussion on January 13, aiming to take the bills to the first available plenary session after that.
In the interim the parties will hold internal deliberations, as well as speak with the interior ministry which drafted the legislation. The postponement was requested by ruling Disy, Diko and the Greens.
Aristos Damianou, Akel MP and committee chair, voiced disappointment that after 11 long sessions the parties had failed to take the bills “into the final stretch” within the timeframe previously agreed.
Damianou appealed to all sides to “realise the scope of their responsibility” and to keep petty party politics and interests out of an endeavour whose ultimate purpose is the public good.
Responding to questions, the MP said that no one officially proposed creating five greater metropolitan municipalities, as reported by some media. Damianou hinted these were deliberate leaks intended to muddy the waters and derail the process.
If that were allowed to happen, he added, local government reform would not come about “not even by 2024”.
The government envisions a maximum of 17 municipalities, to be created through mergers of existing ones. Whereas Disy is on board with the government blueprint, opposition parties seem to have coalesced on a configuration of 20 municipalities.
For his part, Disy deputy Nikos Sykas argued that the new date of January 13 does not represent a major setback.
Despite insisting on the 17 municipalities, in the same breath he said that the essence lies not in the number of municipalities but rather the effectiveness of the reform.
Certain criteria must be factored in, such as each new municipality’s population density and its economic wherewithal.
In a similar vein, Diko MP Panicos Leonidou said the delay would give parties more time to tweak their respective positions – a positive.
“Nothing bad will happen to anyone by letting the discussion go on…dialogue and communication will help make the law more productive, transparent and democratic.”
According to daily Politis, Diko had played a crucial part in the new turn of events. Over the weekend, the party secretariat held a meeting to ostensibly decide their final position. During the course of the discussion, disagreements emerged over whether or not referendums should be held so that local residents of municipalities and communities get the final say on the proposed mergers.
Matters were left hanging, so that on Monday Diko went to the House interior committee without a clear stance. Reportedly, this set off a chain reaction inside the committee, preventing the committee from wrapping up its business.
The issue of the referendums is still doing the rounds, despite the fact that back in March the attorney-general opined that they could not hold up legally. The AG said that having plebiscites after the bills were enacted would imply that the bills were subject to plebiscites – whereas once a law is passed by parliament this is final and definitive.