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Our View: Party meddling has destroyed local government reform

Υπουργός Εσωτερικών – Περιφερειακ
Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou

Nothing illustrates the poisonous influence of the political parties on the administration of the country more clearly than the vaunted reform of local government, which took years to finalise and will come into effect on July 1, after elections are held. The new local government structures are the result of cynical horse-trading, political expediency, threats and blackmail, all aimed at keeping party influence and the number of jobs for the party faithful at a maximum.

The irony is that the reform was forced on the government by the Troika, which considered the existence of 30 municipalities for a tiny country a ludicrous waste of resources, which totally undermined the idea of local democracy. This number of municipalities was economically unviable as local authorities were always heavily in debt and being bailed out by central government. They were also unable to provide an adequate level of service as most of their funds went on their bloated payrolls.

With the reform, the Anastasiades government proposed the reduction of municipalities to 17 – not even a 50 per cent reduction – but the parties increased them to 20. The government and the parties ignored the consultants brought in to give reform advice – one group said there should be five another proposed seven to eight and we ended up with 20, the cost of which will be higher than it was under the old system. The state grant will increase from €120m this year to €140m in 2025.

There will now be 20 mayors and 93 deputy mayors representing the communities that fall under the newly-created municipalities. In addition, there will be an elected ‘super mayor’ (not in the government plan, but because parties decided this), who will head each of the five Administrative District Organisations, under which the municipalities would be. The mayors of ‘big’ municipalities will be on annual salaries of €77,000, the district heads, reportedly on €80,000 while the deputy mayors, who will have next to nothing to do, on between €717 and €2,987 per month. Total annual cost for the deputy mayors will be €2.3m.

Interior minister Constantinos Ioannou made a savage critique of the local government reform during a briefing this week, saying decisions were taken that were not based on the technical/financial data the consultants provided but on other criteria. This would give rise to unviable municipalities, Ioannou said, as the party horse-trading created municipalities without the required number of people to sustain them. He was scathing about remuneration of the officials and the number of deputy mayors. Polis Chrysochous municipality would have 14 deputy mayors, West Limassol municipality would have nine and Lefkara, which should never have been a municipality, seven.

All this was the product of the parties’ random chopping and changing which ignored all the basic criteria and objectives of the reform, including the financial aspects, and did their own thing based on each party’s narrow interests. It was recklessly irresponsible behaviour that will bring into existence a dysfunctional and unsustainable system of local government, with Ioannou warning that the District Organisations, which will be in charge of the water development board, managing household waste, as well as town planning and issuing building permits will face an unmanageable volume of work. Ioannou has proposed that the transfer of these authorities should be delayed by a few years because they would be unable to cope.

Now, Diko, which had been instrumental in the chopping and changing is blaming the previous government for a system that is doomed to fail. Former minister of interior Nicos Nouris, who was responsible for the reform, blamed the government for bringing up these issues just four months before they are set to be put in force, because it felt it would not be able to manage the problems. He may have a point, but surely he also had a duty to speak out at the time, after the parties had completely wrecked the reform plan.

The question is, what happens now? Will citizens have to grin and bear the results of a reform that, according to all accounts, will increase the cost of local government without improving the services provided? The government should return to the drawing board as it has identified the problems that will arise in July, and try to limit the dysfunctionality.

 

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