OPINION

Municipal coffers

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s categorical declaration to the central union of municipalities (KEDKE) that the government can only raise its contribution to local government coffers by 310 million euros, far short of the 750 million they had asked for, has prompted KEDKE to call an ad hoc congress for the end of August. Despite KEDKE president Paris Koukoulopoulos’s claim that the prime minister’s offer was satisfactory, the prevailing climate at the congress is likely to reflect the perception that local government is not being given the funds it needs to carry out its duties. KEDKE is right, up to a point. These responsibilities have grown without any budgetary study of the costs involved and without any provision for increasing revenue to cover its expanded role. But that is only one side of the issue. It is true that if the municipalities wanted their claim to be more convincing, they should also show that they are able to manage their already considerable funds (revenue from electricity and water bills are not at all negligible). They should also have shown ratepayers that their money has been well spent and that irrespective of economic factors, they have become a true forum for civic organization on a local level. With few exceptions, the municipalities have not done that. Their budgets are treated as «amounts to be administered,» not as public funds subject to the restrictions of the broader fiscal environment. Job creation and investments by municipal development companies are being referred to as examples of how not to engage in clientist relations, while cooperation between neighboring municipalities is at an embryonic stage. Central government has invested local government with authority either because it was considered useful or because there was no choice. But if local government really wants «convergence with Europe» (as the KEDKE president said) and it is not simply repeating a slogan, it should realize that European local government has managed to become a vehicle for legitimate civil administration, leaving behind the mentality of the proverbial «Ottoman official» that unfortunately still characterizes some of our local figures. When municipalities keep asking for money, particularly during lean times, it does nothing for their image, especially when they have nothing to show for it. KEDKE is right to call a congress, but first it should see how it can do its job and how much it really needs to do it.