There are two types of local authorities, Municipalities and Communities, which are governed by separate laws. In principle, Municipalities constitute the form of local government in urban and tourist centres, while communities constitute the local structure in rural areas.
In October 1985, a new comprehensive law on local government, the Municipalities’ Law 111 of 1985 was passed by the House of Representatives. The Law provided for the establishment of new municipalities. According to this Law, any community may become a municipality by local referendum, subject to the approval of the Council of Ministers, provided it has either a population of more than 5.000, or has the economic resources to function as a municipality.
Since Turkey’s invasion of 1974 and the subsequent occupation of the northern part of Cyprus by Turkey, nine municipalities, which still maintain their legal status, have been temporarily relocated to the free areas.
The corporate structure of municipalities is defined by the relevant legislation of 1985. Mayors are elected directly by the citizens on a separate ballot, for a term of five years and are the executive authority of the municipalities. The Mayor represents the municipality in a Court of Law and before any state authority, and presides over all Council meetings, Administrative Committee meetings and any other municipal committee. The Mayor executes the Council’s decisions and heads all municipal services, which he or she directs and supervises.
Municipal Councils, which are the policy-making bodies of the municipalities, are elected directly by the citizens for a five year term, but separately from the Mayor. The Council appoints the members of the Administrative Committee. The latter’s duties include the preparation of the municipality’s budgets and annual financial statements, the provision of assistance and advice to the Mayor in the execution of his duties, coordination of the work of other committees appointed by the Council and the execution of any other duties entrusted to it by the Council or the Mayor. The Council may also set up ad-hoc or standing committees, which have an advisory role.
The principal positions and offices in a municipality are also specified in the relevant legislation and these are the positions of the Municipal Secretary, the Municipal Engineer, the Treasurer and the Health Officer. Additional positions may be created where a need arises.
According to the Law, the main responsibilities of municipalities are the construction, maintenance and lighting of streets, the collection, disposal and treatment of waste, the protection and improvement of the environment and the good appearance of the municipal areas, the construction, development and maintenance of municipal gardens and parks and the protection of public health. The Municipal Council has the authority to promote, depending on its finances, a vast range of activities and events including the arts, education, sports and social services. In addition to the Municipalities Law, there are several laws giving municipalities important powers other than those already mentioned.
The main sources of revenue of municipalities are municipal taxes, fees and duties (professional tax, immovable property tax, hotel accommodation tax, fees for issuing permits and licences, fees for refuse collection, fines, etc.), as well as state subsidies. Taxes, duties and fees represent the major source of revenue, while state grants and subsidies amount to only a small percentage of the income. The central government, however, usually finances major infrastructure projects undertaken by the municipalities. The yearly budgets of the municipalities are submitted to the Council of Ministers for approval and their accounts are audited annually by the Auditor General of the Republic. Municipal loans also need to be approved by the Council of Ministers.
The functions of communities are generally similar to those of municipalities, although structurally different. The residents of the community elect the President of the Community and the Community Council for a five-year term. With the exception of some communities, which are financially better off, the Government provides essential administrative and technical assistance as well as most of the necessary services to most communities, through its District Offices. The revenue of Communities consists of state subsidies as well as taxes and fees collected from the residents of the area.
The Community Councils are responsible for the provision of community services, water supply, and the regulation of professional practices.
In exercising their competencies, the Councils enjoy a degree of independence, but as Local Authorities which exercise their competency in accordance to the relevant Law, they are normally subject to legal scrutiny and control by Government bodies, and to control in serious matters, such as the compulsory acquisition of real estate for municipal purposes and the signing of long-term agreements exceeding five years.
Despite the broad range of competencies invested to Community Councils by the Communities Law adopted in 1999, the strategic goal of the Government is to broaden further these competencies and at the same time the economic self-sufficiency of Community Councils, so that they can respond in a timely and effective manner to the contemporary needs of the rural population.
Until the fulfilment of the goal of the economic independence of the Community Councils, the Government supplements their revenue with various subsidies and primarily with a contribution to development projects, which ranges between 70 – 100 %.
Union of Municipalities
The Union of Cyprus Municipalities was established in 1981. Even though membership is voluntary, all municipalities, accounting for 65 per cent of the population of Cyprus, are represented.
The main objective of the Union is to contribute to the development of local government autonomy, as well as act as spokesman of local government interests, vis-à-vis the central government and other national organizations and institutions.
The Union’s decision-making power is vested in the General Assembly, which may examine and decide on all issues. The Executive Committee implements decisions taken by the General Assembly. The President of the Union represents the Union before any authority, while the Secretary-General is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Union.
The Union follows closely and participates in international activities related to Local Authorities and in recent years, especially after the accession of Cyprus to the EU, it takes an active stand and develops relations with organizations, institutions and departments of the European Union that are related to local authorities, and is actively involved in European Programs concerning local authorities. In this regard, the Union has set up an office in Brussels in 2005.
The Union of Cyprus Municipalities is a member of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and is represented in the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) and the Committee of the Regions of the European Union (CoR). It is also a member of the Standing Committee for the Euro Mediterranean Partnership of Local and Regional Authorities (COPPEM), a founding member of the Network of Eastern External Border Regions (NEEBOR) and a member of the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) and the Assembly of European Regions (AER).
For more information please refer to: www.ucm.org.cy