Barring the unexpected, the legislation on local government reform will go to the plenum for a vote one month from now, it transpired on Thursday.
Speaking after a session of the House interior affairs committee – reviewing the relevant government bills – committee chair Aristos Damianou said they have asked the Speaker of the House to table the legislation for a vote on February 24.
But in apparent sign of last-minute jitters, the committee also requested that the meeting of political party heads, to be held just before the crucial vote, rules out the option of postponement in the event of an impasse.
Deciding to postpone the vote is the procedural prerogative of the meeting of the political party leaders.
Thursday’s discussion in committee had been supposed to be the last, but due to ongoing differences another, final, session will take place on Monday.
Nicos Sykas, MP with ruling Disy, said his party felt that a consensus is possible, noting that “the reform is of the utmost necessity.”
Still, his party stuck to their guns when it came to the maximum number of municipalities emerging from the proposed mergers. Disy have drawn the line at 17 municipalities.
There are currently 30 municipalities, with greatly differing financial profiles. The core idea behind the reform drive is consolidation and achieving economies of scale so that municipalities can stand on their own feet without government support.
Most of the other parties propose 20 municipalities, while Dipa proposes 14.
Even at this late stage, substantial differences remain on other major issues – including on whether to allow for a plebiscite where municipalities or communities do not agree with the proposed mergers, or on the process of electing deputy mayors.
The government as well as the ruling party have warned that holding referendums after the passage of the law would risk derailing the entire project.
The attorney-general has also stated that having a popular vote 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.
The reform legislation had been scheduled to be passed by late December before parliament went into recess for the holidays. But with more and more amendments added to the government bills, those plans were set aside.
Passage of the reform would make Cyprus eligible for funds from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.