The evolution of local administration has deep roots in the progression of Cypriot history. The current form and nature of local administration in Cyprus is inherently linked to the transition of Cyprus to a unitary state in 1960. Moreover, local administration and the Cyprus issue are inextricably linked, since the creation of separate municipalities based on community lines was one of the main factors that resulted in the collapse of the system in 1963-64. Moreover, and from a historical perspective, local administration even before the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, was inevitably linked with the rights granted to the inhabitants of the island on the basis of varying modes of enhanced self-governance and decentralisation. Needless to say, such empowerment varied in different periods depending on the relations between the Cypriots and the central administration of the occupying power; this has been the mode for centuries.
There is, therefore, a long history behind the evolution of local administration and from the outset it must be clarified that the existence of reliable sources is scarce, especially in relation to the period until the end of the Ottoman rule in 1878. The introduction by the British of a system of local self-government has been the pivotal moment and that set of arrangements has remained at the epicentre of operations of local administration until relatively recently. The British system gradually established the Village Authorities and the Improvement Boards that were operating until 1999, when they were replaced by a system of communities. This marked the first comprehensive attempt for the reform of local administration in the Republic of Cyprus. That initiative was driven by the intention to take the necessary measures in order to comply with international obligations, arising from a relevant Convention of the Council of Europe on Local Administration, as well as by the need to take the necessary steps for facilitating an effective and efficient operation of Cyprus as a future Member State of the European Union.
A particular context
In order to gain full understanding of the progression of the system of local administration in Cyprus, reference must also be made to the political sensitivities that are related to the Cypriot problem. The thorny issue that was first presented during the last years of the British colonial rule was the establishment of separate municipalities on the basis of existence of two communities (Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots). The key point is that there was no geographical and/ or administrative division since the population was living in harmony in mixed areas, thus the idea about separate municipalities was driven by a purely political rationale that was related to the then on-going discussion about the future of Cyprus after decolonisation. The Turkish- Cypriot side insisted on the creation of separate municipalities and the Greek-Cypriot side opposed the idea for being dangerously divisive. The issue remained unresolved and was transferred in the provisions of the Constitution of 1960 (Article 173), thus creating a constant source of disagreement and tension until 1964. The provision on separate municipalities for Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots in the strict, rigid and partly imposed Constitution of the Republic was never implemented. This was the case despite the existence of a sunset clause requirement in Article 173 that provided first for the establishment of separate municipalities in the five main cities, and then for a reconsideration of the continuation of the scheme after four years. The failure to implement the provision can be attributed to the opposing approach of the two sides. The Greek-Cypriot side regarded the provision as enhancing division and separation on the basis of ethnic criteria, though the provision was practically impossible to enforce given the mixed composition of the population in municipal areas, and would result at the same time in the creation of enormous and disproportionate financial cost. The Turkish- Cypriot side insisted on the immediate and full enforcement of the provision since it was an integral part of the agreement as manifested in the Constitution.
The deadlocked situation of the municipalities issue contributed heavily to the Constitutional Crisis of 1963, the withdrawal of Turkish-Cypriot officials from the administration, government and the Parliament of the republic, and to the resulting relocation thereby into enclaves as a form of de facto local administration. This abnormal situation made impossible the functioning of all constitutionally instituted organs of the state, with the clear and imminent danger of a collapsed state. The doctrine of necessity was thus adopted by the Supreme Court of the Republic in the famous Attorney General v. Mustafa Ibrahim decision of 1964 that was founded on the maxim “Salus populi, suprema lex’’. This in effect enabled the organs of the state to continue to function despite the absence of the Turkish-Cypriot officials on the basis of composition and functions that were to be analogous to the original ones, temporary in nature and necessary in order to safeguard the actual existence of the state.
Local administration in the Republic of Cyprus is still based on the principle of the doctrine of necessity. In 1964 the House of Representatives voted, without the participation of Turkish- Cypriots representatives, for a law establishing unified municipalities in the five biggest towns of the island. In 1974 the Turkish illegal military invasion and the on-going illegal occupation of 37% of the northern part of the Republic, affected the way local administration in Cyprus works.
In 1985 a Municipalities’ Law was enacted that included provisions for occupied municipalities, which were relocated to the part of the republic controlled by the government. The same applies for the established communities under the Communities Law of 1999 that replaced Village Authorities and Improvement Boards as forms of local administration.
Several attempts took place the past years for a reform of local administration in Cyprus. In 2014, the House of Representatives rejected a draft law submitted by the Minister of the Interior through the Ministerial Council, aiming to reform the local administration in Cyprus. The need for comprehensive reform is now pressing for reasons of efficiency and effectiveness but also because the Republic has undertaken an obligation under the Economic Adjustment Program (between the Republic on one hand and the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund on the other). To this end, the Ministerial Council submitted in July 2015 three new draft laws on the reform of local administration, following consultation with the stakeholders, with the aim of ensuring a positive vote by the House of Representatives. The Union of Municipalities and the Union of Communities have submitted their objections in various provisions of the draft laws, and it remains to be seen, whether the House of Representative will vote upon the proposed reform on local administration before the next municipal elections that are set to take place in 2016. At the time of reporting, the legislative process remains in full flow and the outcome is expected in the coming months.
by Constantinos Kombos assisted by Antonis Teodosiou & Ioanna Demosthenous
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
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