The Constitutional Affairs Committee supported the Administrative Reform Bill that sets out the minimum size of local governments and prescribes the merger of small units. The Committee sent the Bill to its first reading.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that the administrative reform must be carried out. The Estonian people and the state need local governments to be more capable and to offer better public services,” said the Chairman of the Constitutional Committee Kalle Laanet. “However, it is also extremely important that every Estonian understands what are the objectives of the administrative reform, how it is carried out, and how this strengthens the local governments.”
Laanet believes that a thorough explanation of the administrative reform will help to dispel the fears surrounding it. “Every politician and local government leader must familiarise themselves with the principles of the administrative reform and be prepared to explain these to the people, when needed,” he added.
MP Siim Kiisler, who presented the Bill at the Riigikogu sitting on behalf of the Committee, said that it would show good statemanship and responsibility to pass the Bill before the summer recess of the parliament. “The falling through of the administrative reform would be a painful setback for the development of rural municipalities and towns, as well as the whole country,” he added.
The Administrative Reform Bill (200 SE), initiated by the government, includes the principles and procedures for carrying out the administrative reform, determines the minimum size of a local government unit and the relevant exceptions, and the rights and obligations deriving from the merging of local governments. The objective of the administrative reform is to form local government units that are able to offer people better public services, ensure better competitiveness for regions, and independently fulfil the tasks set to them.
The Bill sets a 5,000 minimum limit to the population of a local government. However, the Minister of Public Administration Arto Aas, who presented the Bill in the Committee, said that the reform hopes to achieve local governments with a population of at least 11,000.
The Bill gives the local governments that fall short of the minimum criteria time to decide until the end of 2016 whom they want to merge with. The government will pay a merger grant to them, having set aside a total of EUR 80 million for the purpose.
Aas estimates that around 80 % of local governments in Estonia do not fulfil the criteria set to local governments by the Bill. If some local governments that do not fulfil the criteria still remain after the voluntary mergers, the government will first ask them to merge voluntarily in 2017, and if this does not work either, the government will step in and merge the local governments itself.
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