Cyprus blocking evolved local government

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Cyprus is still too centralised with very little progress in promoting local democracy in the country, said a report adopted by the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

The report said efforts to reform local government in Cyprus, if approved, should increase local self-government and enhance the governance of local authorities.

The Congress adopted a report on Cyprus’ application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and concluded that shortcomings persisted since its previous report in 2016.

According to a Council of Europe announcement, the principle of self-government remains unrecognised, either in the Constitution or in applicable laws.

It said the sphere of responsibility of local authorities remains limited compared with common European standards and stresses that financial needs for local authorities depend too much on state transfers and grants.

It is noted that Finance Ministry officials interviewed conceded that many Cypriot local authorities, especially smaller communities, cannot meet the population’s needs and face “considerable financial problems”.

A lack of financial autonomy for local authorities was recognised.

The government worked out a “comprehensive reform of local government”, which did not secure approval by the House of Representatives before the May 2021 parliamentary elections.

“If eventually approved, this reform should increase local self-government and enhance the governance of local authorities.

“A radical reorganisation of the local government structures is also envisaged, through the compulsory mergers of all existing municipalities, reducing their number roughly by half. Many communities are also included in this operation,” the report said.

The planned reform would significantly increase the competencies and responsibilities of local authorities and their financial basis.

Moreover, several checks over local authorities, discharged so far by central government ministries, would be removed if approved.

Recommendations from the monitoring report include introducing and recognising the principle of local self-government in laws governing the municipalities and the communities.

It would entrench municipal tasks in the law and clarify the distribution of municipal competencies that should be increased, such as urban development planning or social services.

According to the recommendations, Cyprus should expand its municipal taxing capacity by increasing resources from local taxes.

This would strengthen the financial autonomy of the municipalities and reduce dependency on transfers provided by the central government.

Cyprus is called to establish an efficient financial equalisation system, to protect financially weaker local authorities, and eliminate as far as possible prior administrative controls from central government over local authorities, especially on matters related to the management of their human resources, budgets or assets and properties.

“The country ought to strengthen the capacity of local governments to manage, organise and plan their human resources by allowing local authorities to regulate at their discretion the conditions of service of their employees without prior approval of the Cabinet”.