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Government ‘has the will’ to implement reform (updated)

ΠτΔ – Σύσκεψη με Αρχηγούς Πολιτικώ
The president with party leaders at the palace

Challenges to the implementation of local government reform will be resolved with the help of parliament, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Tuesday following a meeting on the issue with party leaders at the Presidential Palace.

The meeting was chaired by President Nikos Christodoulides, and saw party heads updated on the troubled issue.

The president, as well as the interior minister, gave assurances of the will of the government to proceed with the existing legislation as has been passed by the House.

Ioannou noted there are less than 100 days left until the implementation of the reform, which is why it was deemed appropriate to provide an update on the basis of the road map prepared by his ministry.

“We are on a good path. There are some challenges in the coming months and that’s why we asked for the assistance of parliament to resolve any problems decisively,” the minister said.

The challenges concern securing buildings to house the districts’ self-governing authorities, training of staff, and completion of the Evagoras data system software.

“We emphasised once again that the role of the ministry in the reform is [a supportive one] through the central advisory committee. We stand by the municipalities and the elected officials to support them in their work, whether [in relation to the] software, organisational charts, or budgets,” the minister said.

According to Ioannou, the president also reiterated the will of the government to implement the bill as it had been passed and his determination for success in the matter.

“We believe that in collaboration with parliament, but also the mayors, we will be able to overcome any problems that may arise,” the minister added.

It is everyone’s understanding that the legislation is not ideal and problems regarding it had been identified ahead of time, and brought to parliament since last June, the minister said.

“We have a road ahead of us, this is what we are called to implement in the time after the elections, [for] any problems, we have the will, the desire, [and] the determination to solve [them as they] appear, always in cooperation with parliament, which at the end of the day is the legislator,” Ioannou added.

July 1 is the official date for when the new system of local government kicks in.

Asked about concerns over the process, the minister noted that in any major reform there is always concern.

“Had we no concerns we would be in trouble,” he said, adding, “We are concerned, as I have pointed out [as] our role is mainly supportive, with the exception of licensing where our contribution is large. That’s why we have hired 87 people so far, [to help] simplify the process.”

The minister said the fact that in some districts no buildings have yet been found was a worry, but added that the responsibilities were not the ministry’s and there was no question of assigning them.

“We cannot intervene to secure buildings. What we can do is to put pressure on the provisional councils,” he noted.

Though not ideal “the reform is definitely better than the existing system”, Ioannou said. “I repeat, and I want to be clear, as the executive branch, [we] give assurances that we will implement the legislation as it has been passed.”

In statements to the media later, party leaders generally lent their support to the undertaking.

Disy MP Nikos Sykas, standing in for party head Annita Demetriou, said they had given “their best” to make the reform happen. His party would adopt a positive stance toward the remaining bills to be discussed in parliament.

Akel boss Stefanos Stefanou likewise stated they support local government reform, but added pointedly that it is primarily the bureaucrats job to iron out any kinks.

For his part, Diko’s Nicolas Papadopoulos said the new model coming down the pipe is “far better than the previous one.”

“We knew from the start about the practical difficulties and legislative shortcomings and gaps, but that is inevitable as we have before us one of the most complicated reforms to ever have been voted on.”

Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos noted that, whereas his party had been the only one to vote against the reform bill at the House plenum, they would nevertheless “assist this effort in a positive and constructive way”.

According to government officials, the economies of scale from the mergers of municipalities and communities should result in lower fees.

Under the new system, across the island 18 new Metropolitan municipalities will emerge from the fusion of the 28 current municipalities and 63 local communities. In addition, two municipalities (those of Paphos and Strovolos) will remain as is, for a total of 20 municipalities – down from 30 now.

The Metropolitan municipalities will be granted more financial autonomy. They’ll gain new responsibilities and competences in domains such as social affairs, permit issuing, local infrastructure maintenance, environmental protection and quality of life, and schools.

Meanwhile there will come about 30 ‘local clusters’ (a new type of public-law organisation) for the remaining 286 communities – those not merged with municipalities. The clusters will provide aggregated services (collection and general waste management, secretariat provision, accounting and technical services). These administrative bodies will provide a wider range of services and will support the community councils in discharging their obligations.

And five new ‘district councils’ will be set up. The existing sewerage councils, water supply councils, solid waste management and urban planning authorities, will all be merged at the district level.

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