Interior Minister Nikos Nouris has been asked by EU officials to give the rundown of the administration’s latest efforts in local government reform, just days after a proposal for a referendum was defeated by opposition parties that cried foul over the move.
According to Philenews, Nouris received an email from EU officials who asked how the Republic of Cyprus was handling local government reform efforts, with additional reports suggesting Brussels were drafting a report for the European Commission on how some members of the bloc were proceeding with decentralization for more effective municipal autonomy.
Last week the House voted down a government proposal that would call for a referendum on a specific plan by the ministry, aimed at merging municipalities to cut down on cost and streamline services.
But opposition parties cried foul over the bill, with some arguing they were not against local government reform but specific proposal details and lack of adequate time for voters to get informed before May elections.
Nouris said the over the weekend that “the Cypriot citizen is the loser” in the latest developments, adding the government attempted to put a specific question to the people to see whether or not they wanted reform.
A higher number of municipalities could receive broader support, while arguments against proposal ranged from operational questions to voter redistricting and fears of gerrymandering
Local reports suggested the public was in favor of shrinking government size at the municipal level, but parties disagreed on the total number of municipality districts after the merger.
The proposed question in the referendum asked citizens “do you agree with the local government reform based on a proposal by the executive branch to create seneteen new municipalities with administrative and financial autonomy,” with opposition parties saying the question was unclear and open to multiple interpretations.
Some opposition parties have said a higher number of municipalities could receive broader support, with arguments based on multiple issues ranging from operational questions to voter redistricting and gerrymandering.
AKEL party said it was in favor of local referendums, not national, but questioned the government’s timing over the proposal just weeks ahead of parliamentary elections in May.
DIKO also called for local referendums while also accusing the administration of not really wanting reform, suggesting instead that the government wanted to complicate matters.
EDEK cried foul over redistricting issues in the plan, raising serious disagreements with the government over district boundaries and their role in destabilizing the electorate.
According to last year’s EU National Reform Programme for Cyprus, increasing the efficiency of the Public and Local Administration was listed among other aims, including justice reform which also failed last week.
A total of €968 million of EU money destined for Cyprus over a period between 2021 and 2027 remains up in the air pending local reforms, with officials speculating the cash could either be frozen until Cyprus overhauls its local government or even lost.
Nouris is expected to respond to EU officials reiterating his government’s commitment to local government reform, according to Philenews.
While a reform budget remains pending, political pundits speculated that local government could not even be discussed before September, citing May elections and a summer recess.