After a great deal of tampering by the political parties the laws that would reform local government were eventually passed by the legislature. But despite the self-congratulatory mood created by the approval, it is unclear whether the new system would be better than the old. The new system will come into force after next year’s municipal elections so we will not know how it will function before then.
If we look at the main objectives of the reform, it is questionable whether all these had been achieved. When Cyprus was in the assistance programme, the troika urged the reduction of the absurdly high number of municipalities – given the small size of our population – so the taxpayer could save money and services be rationalised. The reduction in the number of municipalities has been from 30 to 20, higher than the number proposed by the government.
This will not achieve the savings initially planned. In fact, the cost to the central government would rise by about 40 per cent, from €72m to €117m per year, while three tiers local government would be created. In the top tier there will be five district councils headed by an elected district chief. Below the chief there will be 20 super mayors, in charge of the metropolitan municipalities of the five districts. Some of the metropolitan municipalities will be broken down into boroughs, each with a deputy mayor in charge and its own councillors. For example, Nicosia will consist of four boroughs – Nicosia, Ayios Dhometios, Engomi and Aglandjia.
With the new system we would most probably have many more municipal councillors, which could be one of the reasons the state budget for municipalities will increase. Meanwhile, the metropolitan municipalities will also be placed in charge of the school boards, maintenance of infrastructure, among other things, while also having their own municipal police, apart from traffic wardens! More people would be hired and with the job of supervising schools.
The idea that there would be savings under the new system, because many of the departments of the old municipalities will be merged into one, seems a case of wishful thinking as does the idea that people will be paying less for garbage collection. The parties which changed the government reform bills were not looking to save money but to maintain the municipal jobs, in one way or another, keep the number of councillors to a maximum and also enable metropolitan municipalities to create more jobs.
It would be no surprise if the so-called rationalisation of local government, would end up being a bigger drain on state funds than the existing system, because the political parties completely disregarded the main objective of the reform – to make local authorities serve citizens rather than create more jobs for party supporters.