For the purpose of borrowing for capital investment, local authorities shall have access to the national capital market within the limits of the law.
112. Article 9 paragraph 1 of the Charter provides that local authorities must have adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their powers. Financial autonomy is an essential component of the principle of local self-government and for the exercise of a wide range of responsibilities in the field of local public affairs. These elements are cumulative and not alternative, which means that all conditions laid down in this provision of the Charter are mandatory.
113. Another basic principle requires that local authorities must have sufficient financial resources in proportion to the responsibilities assigned to them by law. On the basis of the available data and information, it is particularly difficult to assess if and how this requirement is met in Cyprus. While some NGOs claim that the insufficient fund prevents a lot of small communities to provide appropriate public services, others may argue that the principle of adequate finance seems to be more or less met in Cyprus, but only because municipalities have only extremely limited functions.
114. As it was described, local authorities are obliged, according to the Municipalities, the Communities and the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget System (FRBSL) Laws, to submit their annual budget to the central government for approval. During the monitoring visit, the Congress delegation had some opportunities to discuss this issue with leaders and senior officials of two central ministries, other central agencies, and the representatives of the visited local authorities and local government unions. The dominant view of the central authorities is that the municipalities and the communities are parts of the state and they receive grants from the central government. They spend public money, and the state (central government) is the warrant of local government deficit and debt. All these circumstances justify the prior consent of the central government to the local budgets. However, Article 9 paragraph 1 of the Charter requires that local authorities must be entitled to dispose freely of their own resources. This requirement is hardly compatible with the compulsory central government consent to local budgets, where the central authorities may impose special conditions and expectations for local authorities to this approval. Since all council members of the municipalities and the communities are democratically elected in Cyprus, they have enough legitimacy to decide how they spend their revenues. Local authorities should be accountable to their own voters, rather than to the preferences of central government in local public affairs. As stated above, the Ministry of Interior has a different point of view on this issue, highlighting the fact that this control is confined to the sole lawfulness of the proposed budget and that the central government hence does not impose its own proposals upon local authorities. However, according to the rapporteurs, the practice of central approval of local government budget shows the picture of an overcentralized financial system, in which most important local decisions are influenced or tightly controlled by the central government.
115. According to the conclusions of the rapporteurs, in the absence of a predictable and transparent calculation method of central grants, local authorities cannot be sure for getting enough money for their compulsory tasks and functions. They are hardly able to plan their current expenditure if they can just hope that they will receive the usual amount of central subsidy. It is conspicuous in particular when the total amount of central grant has been significantly decreased in the past few years.
116. The presumed calculation method which is based on the previous year’s data of local budgets brings about certain risks for local authorities, because the decrease of local revenues as a consequence of the negative effects of world financial crisis and the drop of central grants as these took place in the last years, might become permanent, fixing local revenues steadily at a low level (see supra para 89. for more details).
117. As some representatives of local authorities said, the allocation of state subsidies is not preceded by an investigation or assessment of real financial needs of local authorities. In this system, it is doubtful whether local governments are able to produce public services at the same level in all towns and the rural areas. Moreover, if the central planning is not based on a careful assessment of local needs, the use of central grants is unlikely to be effective. This view has been opposed during the consultation procedure by the Ministry of Interior, which stated that the central government’s contribution to the local government projects of the poorest authorities reaches 100% of the local investment costs, in addition to the fact that the Ministry of Interior, as stated above, may distribute extra grants to those in need, at its own discretion and based on specific criteria.
118. There is a similar problem with the specific (or earmarked) grants, as most part of the local development projects is financed by central government. In the lack of sufficient local revenues for capital expenditure, local authorities are vulnerable to central encroachment upon local affairs. In fact, most development plans including the smallest local development, like road repairs or bicycle road construction are made at central government level. It seems to be an ineffective way of planning and implementing local development policies and projects. Once again though, the Ministry of Interior disapproved this statement during the consultation procedure, saying that all local authorities without any exception had the possibility to assume and implement on their own development projects, provided they have the necessary financial resources.
119. The Charter requires that at least a part of local revenues should come from local taxes. Article 9 paragraph 3 comprises a definition of local taxes claiming that local authorities, within the limits of the law, must have the power to determine the rate of these taxes. Moreover, local taxes are really “proper” revenues only if the imposition of local taxes is a free decision of local government. In Cyprus, the share of local taxes in local budgets is relatively high, even if some of these revenues are not genuine local taxes (but rather, they are fees and charges paid by users of certain local public services). The only problem which has arisen in this area was the weak capacity of communities to collect local taxes. In this respect, the tax authorities of the central government could make invaluable contribution to the respective local authorities to collect local taxes.
120. Neither the Municipalities Law nor the Communities Law contain the principle of concomitant (adequate) finance, and the practice shows that central grants are not adjusted to the local needs. So, there is no guarantee for adequate local government finance proportionate to mandatory functions of the municipalities and communities.
121. As to the overall assessment of the compliance with Article 9, the rapporteurs concluded that paragraphs 4 and 5 of this Article are not implemented, while the prevalence of paragraphs 2 and 6 are not guaranteed, since the principle of adequate finance, as it is entrenched in paragraph 2 and the prior consultation with local authorities in an appropriate manner in financial issues as required by paragraph 6, do not have any legal safeguard in the relevant statutes.