A view of the seafront of Larnaca City

Stalled local government reform in Cyprus gets going

Stalled local government reform in Cyprus gets going

Following a decisive vote in parliament, the current 30 municipalities will be slimmed down to 20 and will acquire administrative and financial autonomy

In a marathon session on 3 March, involving the passage of three new bills and 60 amendments to existing laws, the House of Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus finally gave the decisive push to the long-delayed reform of local government which aims to bail out the generally bankrupt sector.

Less is more

The Republic of Cyprus is divided into six districts, 30 municipalities in urban areas, and 350 communities in rural areas (not counting the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island). These are run by councils which can raise revenues through local taxes and fees but are also entitled to annual and project-based government grants.

The breakthrough legislation of last week slashes the number of municipalities to 20 from the current 30, through restructuring and mergers, which involve communities as well.

According to Cypriot media, the new laws guarantee the administrative and financial autonomy of municipalities to make them economically viable; empower local councils to pool resources for communal services such as garbage collection, public transport and street cleaning; and allow for the creation of district clusters to run services including water supply and waste management.

Apples of discord

The plan to restructure the debt-ridden local authority sector, so as to achieve economies of scale and make communal services cost-effective, has been the focus of a heated all-party debate for the last 10 years. And while a consensus has been reached across the political spectrum that the reform is long overdue, resentment has been building on the local level, with many municipalities rejecting merger, or voicing their own preferences of merging partners.

Another apple of discord has been whether each municipality should vote for its future status in a referendum, or a nationwide referendum involving all affected municipalities and communities should be held instead.

High stakes

The new administrative system is due to take effect in 2024. To ensure that local councils will have enough time to roll out the reform, parliament has postponed local government elections, due last autumn, to May 2024.

The Cypriot government has pledged to the European Commission to implement the reform by May 2024, a date coinciding with the European Parliament election. Stakes are high, as the EU has set the reform’s progress as one of the conditions Cyprus must meet to receive funding from the Recovery and Resilience Facility. 

Changes at a glance

Under the new administrative arrangement, Nicosia district will have five municipalities: Nicosia (Ayios Dometios, Engomi and Aglandjia), Lakatamia (Lakatamia and Tseri plus Anthoupoli), Latsia-Geri, South Nicosia-Dali, and Strovolos.

Limassol district will have four municipalities: Limassol (Limassol and Mesa Yitonia), East Limassol, Polemidia, and Western Limassol.

The four municipalities of Paphos district will be: Paphos; Eastern Paphos; Western Paphos; and Polis Chrysochous.

Larnaca district will have five new municipalities: Larnaca, Aradippou, Dromolaxia-Meneou, Lefkara, and Athienou.

And lastly, Famagusta district will have two municipalities: Ayia Napa (Ayia Napa-Sotira); and Paralimni-Dherynia.

Map of Cyprus districts

Map of Cyprus’ districts.
Kyrenia lies in the occupied part of the island and is not subject to reform.
Source: Alexander-Michael Hadjilyra, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

Reactions vary from enthusiasm to fury

The reform’s passage in parliament has been met with a discordant chorus of response ranging from applause to disappointment and even rage. The presidency hailed the development as a legacy for the future generations that will bring significant savings of money and other resources, while offering better quality services to the public.

Brushing aside “individual weaknesses” of the legislation, the Union of Cyprus Municipalities praised the vote as “the most important effort to modernise the model of administration since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus.” The organization pointed out in a statement that consultations on the reform plan were based on the European Charter of Local Government, recommendations of the Council of Europe, and experts in service quality improvement.

The mayor of Nicosia Constantinos Yiorkadjis also welcomed the outcome of the vote, expressing disappointment that Strovolos Municipality was not incorporated into the new Nicosia Municipality, despite a plea by both mayors.

Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos took a defiant stand, criticizing the reform for allegedly running contrary to the public interest.

“The political crimes that were orchestrated by five specific political figures as regards local government reform will accompany us for decades,” he said, as quoted by the Cyprus Mail, without mentioning names.



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