EVERYONE who spoke at the AGM of the Union of Municipalities on Tuesday praised the reform of local government that was voted through last April by the legislature after years of haggling among the parties, mayors and the interior ministry.

Interior minister Nicos Nouris hailed the reform, which will be implemented in June 2024, as it would ensure stronger – financially and administratively – independent municipalities with greater scope for public participation in decision-making. Although there were still outstanding issues, he said they would soon be settled so there were no delays in implementation.

President Anastasiades said he was certain that through the reform “we will manage to deliver a local government model that will live up to the public’s expectations.” Chairman of the Union, Andreas Vyras described it as the “most important effort to modernise the governance model since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus.”

They all had to put a positive spin on the project, even though the so-called reform did not go far enough, being the result of committee-style decision based on constant chopping and changing in order to satisfy as many stakeholders as possible. In the end, we will have 20 municipalities, instead of the current 30, although the government had originally proposed 17. After long rows with some mayors refusing to accept the merging of their municipalities with others, the compromise of 20 was reached.

If the government had listened to the experts it had brought in to advise on the local government reform, which was proposed by the troika, the number of municipalities would have been five, at most 10. Then, the municipalities would have been financially and independently stronger, but 20 are still too many for a country with a population of less than a million. The political parties could not agree to such a drastic reduction in the number of municipal councillors and mayors, because it would mean much fewer paid posts for party apparatchiks; also much fewer local authority jobs for supporters. It is for parties to look after their people that we ended up with the ludicrous 30 municipalities.

And it is for the same reason that the great reform of local government could only reduce the number of municipalities by 10. We cannot blame the government as any proposal it took to the legislature would have been radically chopped and changed to go through. In the end ownership of the reform belonged to the political parties which came up with a compromise that suited them rather than the people. This is what happens to any reform that deputies decide to ‘improve’. It becomes a mish-mash of compromises that is no reform at all, but an amended continuation of the old regime.