The Riigikogu passed the Administrative Reform Act which sets the minimum size of a local government at 5000 residents, and provides for the terms during which the local governments will have to achieve compliance with the new criteria, and the grants for merging local governments.
56 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of and 38 were against the Administrative Reform Act (200 SE), initiated by the Government. There were no abstentions.
The Administrative Reform Act includes the bases and procedure for carrying out the administrative reform, and determines the minimum size of a local government and the relevant exceptions. The objective of the administrative reform is to form local governments that are able to provide better public services to people, ensure the increase of competitiveness of regions, and independently perform the functions assigned to them by law.
According to the Act, generally at least 5000 people should reside in a local government. Today, eighty per cent of the local governments of Estonia have less than 5,000 residents.
According to the Act, local governments will have time for voluntary mergers until the end of 2016, and the Government will pay a merger grant to such local governments. Altogether, up to 80 million euro have been planned for merger grants.
If, after the voluntary mergers, there are still such local governments that do not meet the criteria, the Government will first make a proposal for a voluntary merger to them next year, and if this will give no result, the Government will merge these local governments.
The Act will enter into force pursuant to general procedure, that is, on the tenth day following the date of publication in the Riigi Teataja.
Member of the Centre Party Faction Kersti Sarapuu, who took the floor during the debate, said that the Centre Party Faction cannot support the Bill, and she pointed out the reason. “Although the aim to offer better public services is noble in itself, we fear that it is becoming a mere slogan because, with today’s funding model, and also looking at the budget strategy for the coming years, we can in no way ensure security for offering these high-quality services, and this is precisely because of the lack of financial cover,” she said.
“The administrative reform is the first step of the state reform,” member of the Reform Party Faction Kalle Laanet said. “We must continue with improving the governance of Estonia and finding new ideas for it.” Laanet pointed out that the Reform Party supports the passing of the Bill.
Member of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction Siim Kiisler said that they support this Bill and they call also on all the other factions to support it. “At the same time we are aware that this Bill is a compromise, and compromises always have their disadvantages. We have repeatedly said that this Act could have been more ambitious,” he added. “The Pro Patria and Res Publica Union is looking demandingly at the minister responsible for regional affairs, waiting for the promised proposals for changing the tasks and financing of local governments as is fit for stronger, larger local governments.”
Member of the Social Democratic Party Faction Ivari Padar said that they support the passing of the Act. Padar said that this Act is only the first stage and a step towards a larger issue which is called the state reform. He added that the Administrative Reform Act and everything accompanying it has to be viewed in a broader perspective as regards availability of services, and employment, in rural regions. Padar said that today’s step should be taken as the first step, and the administrative reform and the state reform should be continued at a reasonable pace and very clearly considered.
Member of the Free Party Faction Artur Talvik said that they are against the Bill, and he added that they had wished to introduce more community way of thinking into the Bill.
Member of the Conservative People’s Party Faction Henn Põlluaas pointed out that they do not support the Bill. Põlluaas said that it would increase peripherisation, and services would worsen as a result, because they would no longer be available to a large share of people.
The Minister of Public Administration Arto Aas said that the administrative reform is already under way. “I underline that merger negotiations are underway in the majority of Estonian local governments, and they are held actively, constructively, and in all seriousness,” he said. “I wish to confirm on behalf of the Government that we will continue with the next steps concerning the reforming, the updating of the model of local governments. We have prepared drafts of Bills concerning cooperation of local governments, and of course the financing as well.”
The Riigikogu passed four other Acts:
The Act on Amendments to the Courts Act and Other Associated Acts (203 SE), initiated by the Government, makes the regulation concerning the running as a candidate for the office of judge more flexible in order to ensure success of the future competitions of judges. As a result of an amendment, candidates for judicial office will no longer need to undergo a mandatory preparatory service, but they will have to comply with the requirements set for judges, successfully pass a judge’s examination, and pass a competition.
Kalle Laanet from the Reform Party Faction, Jüri Adams from the Free Party Faction and Andres Anvelt from the Social Democratic Party Faction took the floor during the debate.
65 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act and 6 voted against. There were no abstentions.
The Act enters into force on 1 August 2016.
The Act on Amendments to the Status of Members of the Riigikogu Act and the Local Government Organisation Act (181 SE), initiated by the Constitutional Committee, provides for the right of a member of the Riigikogu to be a member of a local government council and to perform the functions of a council member. The Act eliminated the restrictions according to which members of the Riigikogu may not participate in the work of rural municipality or city councils.
Külliki Kübarsepp from the Free Party Faction, Mark Soosaar from the Social Democratic Party Faction, Andre Sepp from the Reform Party and Mart Helme from the Conservative People’s Party Faction took the floor during the debate.
58 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act and 29 voted against. There were no abstentions.
The Act on Amendments to the Private Schools Act, the Youth Work Act and the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act (142 SE) was initiated by the Government. 61 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act, 27 voted against, and there was 1 abstention.
At today’s sitting, the Riigikogu approved the amendments to the Private Schools Act, according to which the state will continue to support the covering of the operating expenses of private schools providing general education until the end of 2019. Activity support to private schools providing education for pupils with special educational needs will be paid until 2023.
Pursuant to the Act, participation in the covering of the operating expenses of private schools will become voluntary for local governments from the beginning of 2017. The city or the rural municipality may support private schools where possible if the local government finds that the relevant school is needed by the community. In addition, when a private school is established, the local government of the location of the private school will have the right to give an opinion on the future private school when processing the activity licence of the school.
The state’s activity support for private schools during the transition period will be 75 percent of the average activity support of the location of the school, in total about 13.6 million euro. The support intended for schools varies by local governments, but it will not exceed 87 euro per pupil in a month.
The activity support for private schools providing education for pupils with special educational needs will total 3 million euro in the transitional period. The support per one pupil is based on the estimated cost of the operating expenses of one student place.
Besides activity support, the state will continue to pay education support to private schools on the same bases as to municipal schools.
The Act on Amendments to the Private Schools Act, the Youth Work Act and the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act will enter into force on 1 January 2017.
Member of the Reform Party Faction Laine Randjärv, who took the floor during the debate, said that the Reform Party supports this Bill and calls on everyone to vote in favour of it. “In the future, the conditions for establishing private schools and receiving support from the state budget should also be analysed in order to ensure normal functioning of the whole school network of the state,” she said. In addition to that, she drew the attention of the audience to certain emotional aspects.
Member of the Centre Party Faction Mailis Reps said that the Centre Party Faction opposes the Bill in its current form. “However, we are glad that, after a long while, we can clearly see in the education the initiative of parents who with the best of will wish to have a say in the education of their children, and they are actually the only ones who won this time,” she added.
“The Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction supports the amendment of the Private Schools Act and other Acts. However, we are not doing it with a light heart,” member of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction Priit Sibul said. “I am convinced that an important series of changes will start from here, and not only for private schools. The whole education system will become more diverse in content and more manageable in terms of network,” he added.
Member of the Conservative People’s Party Faction Martin Helme said that they cannot vote in favour of this Bill because it is guided by a wrong ideology. “It will implement a wrong practice; it restricts the rights of parents in that the possibility of parents to choose the educational path of their children and the manner of education of their children will be impaired. It will give too much power to central authority and make the schools and the management of schools controllable, including also in terms of ideology, through ‘the sitting up and begging for money’,” he said.
Member of the Free Party Faction Krista Aru said that the Bill is not perfect but it will give a possibility to move on with the whole issue. “Every child is worth that his or her educational path is funded equally from taxpayers’ money. In the name of this great cause, we are ready and willing to move on together because there is no other way,” Aru said.
The Act on Amendments to the State Assets Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (171 SE), initiated by the Government, simplifies the administration of state assets and supports the development of enterprise. According to the amendments, in the future, local governments will have the possibility to apply for land without charge from the state in the case when they wish to make important investments to develop enterprise. In other situations, local governments will have to pay 65 per cent of the usual value of the land during five years upon application for land for enterprise. The amendments will simplify the administration of state assets, in particular as regards the transfer of assets from one authority to another. The amendments will reduce the workload of authorities, and the rounds of approval.
84 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act. Nobody voted against and nobody abstained.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian) http://stenogrammid.riigikogu.ee/et/201606071000
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu (NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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