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Ministers lambast ‘costly, unviable’ local government reform

Υπουργείο Εσωτερικών – Τελετή παρ
Interior ministers past and present: Nicos Nouris handing over to Constantinos Ioannou

As a war of words continued to rage over upcoming local government reform with ministers past and present charging political parties of distorting the law so much that the upcoming changes will be unviable, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Saturday the government remains committed to making it work.

Sparking the debate was an interview Ioannou gave earlier this week in which he argued the initial bill had been tinkered with so heavily to get through parliament, that it practically defeated its purpose.

‘No justification for the changes’

“Political dealings have created non-viable municipalities. They do not meet any of the criteria which we clearly explained to the parties,” former Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides argued.

The “compromise” which was eventually reached, has created “new, complex and costly structures” for purely technocratic purposes which do not seem to have sufficient justification, he added.

In fact, the changes have completely flattened the philosophy of the reform, Petrides said.

His comments appeared to back Ioannou’s concerns aired in his interview with Philenews. He highlighted salaries for numerous deputy mayors will range between €717 and €2,987 every month and charged that many municipalities will not be sustainable. With too few communities clustering together, the financial benefits of the reform will effectively fall flat, he argued.

As a result, some deputy mayors will be “overcompensated.” The annual cost of paying them is €2.3 million.

Ioannou said Polis Chrysochous alone is set to have 14 deputy mayors.

Despite the challenges, this form of local government reform “is better than the last” but “others should not undermine our intellect,” Petrides said.

‘I told you so’

Ioannou subsequently said on Saturday he had long voiced his concerns and although there were multiple attempts to change things for the better, the government was not met with the necessary support from political parties.

Nonetheless, it was important to be honest with the public and be clear about the issues currently at hand.

Ioannou stressed that despite the challenges, the government “is determined to work with parliament and municipalities to overcome the obstacles and successfully implement local government reform for society’s benefit.”

Who misled who?

While Disy and Akel slammed Ioannou for “trying to shift the blame” and accused him of trying to scupper efforts rather than deal with the situation at hand, Diko suggested they may have been misled.

Diko’s party leader Nicolas Papadopoulos said they had voted in favour of the reform under the assurances “that significant savings would be achieved.”

He called Ioannou’s statements “highly concerning” and suggested that perhaps political parties had been misled.

This did not sit well with either Petrides or fellow former Interior Minister Nicos Nouris who reminded Papadopoulos that his party had been involved in the amendments, and had been presented with all the necessary studies.

Ioannou had hinted that parties had looked the other way when presented with the technocratic and financial research, instead voting based on “other criteria.”

‘Political lynching’

Nouris reminded political parties that the reform was a Troika-mandated condition, which the EU had also “wagged its finger at us for.”

Nonetheless, when the former Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos submitted the bill with its initial model of five municipalities “he was lynched by political party leaders.”

Nouris argued that “what was eventually voted through, is obviously not exactly what we imagined. But it is a giant leap forward that is open to improvements when you have the will and vision.

“Just because suddenly there were statements saying the model is bankrupt, it would be good for the sake of accuracy to remember who distorted it.”

Specifically, Nouris listed 10 amendments, which he charged were only some of the changes Diko had introduced.

Do more, say less

The former minister said it was unacceptable that the current president – who was a member of the cabinet at the time when the bill was submitted – “allows such statements and doubts.”

At the same, Nouris said it was not appropriate to bring up “existent and non-existent problems for internal consumption.

“Why were they not highlighted and why was no attempt made to resolve them immediately after the election of the new government? Four months before the elections, the relevant services should only focus on intensifying their efforts so that the problems are minimised.”

Finger-pointing the blame

Parliament itself issued a statement earlier this week – ostensibly by House President Annita Demetriou – saying Ioannou’s comments were highly inflammatory and scuppered efforts to introduce the much-touted local government reform, which is slated to come into force on July 1.

Akel’s general secretary Stefanos Stefanou said the final version of the reform “is a result of compromise. But the interior ministry has no right to complain.”

He underlined that any issues should be corrected but this should be done with necessary seriousness.

Disy, also headed by Demetriou, said “authorities should contribute positively and not undermine the entire effort.” Any problems should be collectively solved instead.

“Once again, the government is trying to shift responsibility to parliament.”

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