Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise replied to the interpellation concerning the justified wish of villages to change their local government affiliation (No. 317), submitted by members of the Riigikogu Külliki Kübarsepp, Andres Herkel, Ain Lutsepp, Krista Aru, Artur Talvik, Monika Haukanõmm, Andres Ammas and Jüri Adams on 20 February 2017.
The interpellators referred to the fact that provisions relating to transfer of villages from one local government to another can be found in several Acts – besides the Administrative Reform Act, also in the Territory of Estonia Administrative Division Act and the Local Government Organisation Act. The multitude of different provisions does not make this process easier.
The interpellators wished to know how the Chancellor of Justice assessed the legal clarity of the procedure for changing the local government affiliation of villages in various Acts. Also, whether the procedures for initiating such a process and the procedures related to the possible implementation of the process were sufficiently clear and understandable for residents of villages and for municipal councils.
Madise noted that the question about legal clarity was indeed justified. “Lawyers, even the associate professor of local government law working in our agency, must work hard for hours and days to become more or less clear on what right one or another villager, but also municipality council member, minister, the Government or the Riigikogu actually has,” Madise admitted.
She explained that the whole administrative reform is regulated by a number of Acts. Besides the Administrative Reform Act and the Territory of Estonia Administrative Division Act, there are also the Local Government Organisation Act, the Promotion of Local Government Merger Act, the Place Names Act, and of course the Administrative Procedure Act. In certain cases, it also involves the Civil Service Act and several others. Added to them are several Government Regulations, including the one that is very closely linked to today’s interpellation, namely the Government Regulation on the procedure for ascertaining the opinion of local people which was amended once again just recently last Thursday in connection with the beginning of the stage of forced mergers.
“So indeed it tends to be that it is relatively difficult even for a trained lawyer, who is professionally engaged in this field on a daily basis, to answer the justified questions of people immediately and in simple words,” the Chancellor of Justice stated.
When discussing the problems relating to the merger of local governments, Madise said that the opinion of the residents of a village is never automatically binding to the municipality council or the Government of the Republic. It is however an important argument that must be overturned understandably if the wish of the villagers is not taken into account.
Madise explained that the Supreme Court had specifically assessed the provisions of the Administrative Reform Act that had been challenged in terms of their conformity with the Constitution, and had found that they were constitutional with the exception of a nuance that concerned the covering of merger costs in the state budget, or more precisely, the upper limit set for it.
She pointed out the problem of to what extent an argumented opinion of local people can eventually influence a forced merger. “Looking at the practice of administrative courts and the Supreme Court, and taking into account the theory of law, the practice is that when people provide weighty arguments – and in the current context they are above all the arguments listed in subsection 7 (5) of the Territory of Estonia Administrative Division Act – they must be taken into account,” the Chancellor of Justice said. In her opinion, in making a decision of forced merger, very good arguments must be given as to why the opinion of local people, and the decision to be made, influences negatively for example the educational situation or the functioning as a region of single service or the demographic situation, and why the objectives, the objectives of serving the public interests, actually outweigh the objections.
Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps replied to the interpellation concerning allowing exceptions in transition to instruction in Estonian for schools where Russian is the language of instruction (No. 307), the interpellation concerning school network (No. 314) and the interpellation concerning meeting the proposals submitted to the Government of the Republic in the interim report on the implementation of “The Development Plan of the Estonian Language 2011–2017” (Tallinn 2015) (No. 331).
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas replied to the interpellation concerning the future of the Estonian border guard (No. 306), the interpellation concerning failures of administrative reform in Pärnumaa (No. 310) and the interpellation concerning a potential situation in conflict with the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia in the elections of the Riigikogu in 2019 after the end of administrative reform (No. 312).
Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu replied to the interpellation concerning making entries concerning same-sex marriages in the population register (No. 298).
The sitting ended at 11.41 p.m.
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