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A view of Agros, traditional mountain village in Cyprus

Bumpy course ahead of Cypriot municipal reform

Bumpy course ahead of Cypriot municipal reform

To streamline the reform process, parliament has postponed this year’s local elections to May 2024

Four villages in Famagusta district have sent a letter to the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Cyprus proposing the creation of a unified local authority comprising four existing municipalities and five villages, under the name Constantia municipality. In the letter, quoted by the Cyprus Mail, the mayors of Acheritou, Avgorou, Frenaros, and Ahna said they disagree with the municipal reform plan, which envisages nation-wide mergers of communities in a bid to bail out the generally bankrupt local government sector.

Divided island’s woes

Famagusta district, one of the six administrative districts of Cyprus, lies in the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island, but a number of Greek-populated municipalities are governed by an ‘in exile’ administration from the south. 

The village heads also said that when the Turks relinquish control of Varosha, the tourist area of Famagusta City which had been abandoned after the 1974 invasion, they would unanimously agree to dissolve Constantia, and fuse their communities into one authority to be called Famagusta municipality.

The local leaders said their plan “is based on the unified, solid, and sustainable development of the ‘free’ Famagusta district and the connection of inland areas with the district’s tourist areas”.

The meeting of the four mayors on 4 October was attended by the deputy head of Liopetri village who disapproved of their decision, having already agreed to merge with Sotira and Ayia Napa, in line with the proposed reform.

Local elections tied to reform’s implementation

The letter is the latest episode in the saga surrounding the effort to reform local authorities that has been the subject of intense all-party debate for the last 10 years. The Cypriot parliament is now perusing the reform bills and has already postponed local government elections to May 2024 to give reforms time to be rolled out smoothly.

Putting off the elections, initially scheduled to be held in December 2021, extends the terms of sitting municipal and community councils by two years and a half. The Cypriot government has pledged to the European Commission to implement the local self-government reform by May 2024, a date coinciding with the European Parliament election. Stakes are high, as in exchange for the reform the Republic of Cyprus must receive funds from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Reform caveats

Under the proposed reforms, municipalities would assume the administration of state facilities such as nurseries and care homes, and will be given supplementary powers in relation to public transport. Sweeping changes will be made in local authority structure and operation, including reducing the number of municipalities from 30 to 17 and merging hundreds of communities. The aim of the reform push is to achieve economies of scale and make services cost-effective.

But the process has been far from smooth, with some municipalities rejecting merger and coming up with their own plans. Despite a consensus across the political spectrum that the local authority reform is long overdue, some political parties disagree with the “tight packing” of communities and insist on the formation of 21 municipalities instead of 17.

Taxpayers to the rescue

And while the tug of war involving politics and money drags on, taxpayers will have to hand out around EUR 81 million to help local authorities keep their heads above water, reports Politis newspaper.

EUR 54m have been allocated for the 30 Republic municipalities, EUR 13m for community councils, and another EUR 4.5m will go to the nine councils of Turkish-occupied municipalities. EUR 4m will be used to cover 75 per cent of the cost of street lighting and EUR 75,000 will be granted to the Communities Union. An additional EUR 6.1m is set aside for the salaries and pensions of community leaders.

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