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Our View: Referendum on local government reform makes no sense

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The House plenum

The bills reforming local government and reducing the number of municipalities will be finalised by the House interior committee next week and sent for approval to the plenum before the end of the month. How the discussion will pan out at the plenum nobody can forecast bearing in mind the disagreement over the number of municipalities and the many amendments the parties will be called to vote on at the plenum.

It is quite unbelievable that such an important reform, that will shape local government for many years to come, is up in the air and will depend on party horse-trading leading up to the day of the vote. The bills will go to the plenum without anyone knowing how many municipalities we would end up with. Towards the end of Monday’s committee meeting, Diko for example submitted an amendment proposal that stipulated a merger of municipalities never discussed before, as if this were a game.

This slapdash way of dealing with reform cannot possibly produce good results, but if the political parties were actually interested in a well-functioning system of local government they would not over the years have created such a high number of municipalities that population figures could not justify. Having municipalities that can efficiently serve their citizens is not the priority of the parties, which are more concerned about how the reform would give them some political advantage over their rivals.

The most absurd aspect of this reform, however, is the discussion about putting it to a referendum once it has been finalised. Four different types of referendums are currently on the agenda – a referendum in which the whole population would vote, one for each district, one for each new municipality created or one for every existing municipality (many of which will be merged). If we have to go through the farce of a referendum, it should be a national one for the whole population to decide, but this may be too rational an option for the parties, some of which are intent on giving the power to the voters of a single municipality – perhaps with as few as 10,000 voters to veto a reform that the government has been working on for years.

Did the political parties seek a referendum when they were increasing the number of municipalities to an unsustainable number? Of course not. The representatives of the people had every right to do this. So why can the representatives of the people not reform local government without putting this to the vote? We do not expect a rational answer, because, sadly neither rationality nor consistency governs the decisions of the parties, as the local government reform has made evident.

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