At its sitting, the Riigikogu discussed the administrative reform as a matter of significant national importance.
Reports were by the Deputy Chairman of the Estonian Centre Party Mailis Reps, sworn advocate of Law Office VARUL Paul Varul and the Chairman of the Union of Ida-Virumaa County Municipalities Veikko Luhalaid.
Mailis Reps stressed that, in her opinion, the administrative reform is one of the most burning issues of Estonian life today which needs constant debate and mutual communication between the Government and local governments. She noted that, otherwise, we would get local governments, at some places formed by force, where the quality of deciding on the organisation of life and the services offered can only worsen and, unfortunately, also move away from people. Reps said that the state reform that the Government had put forward with great aplomb last spring is in the end reduced to merely arbitrary re-drawing of the map of Estonia. “The Bill provided for the time schedule for mergers, the size criterion of 5000 residents and, by way of carrot and stick, also merger grants as well as compensations for the executives of local government who would lose their jobs. The administrative reform has been intended to be given actual content with 18 additional Acts, while the Government has not sent any of the Bills to the Riigikogu as of yet,” Reps said.
She said that it is no secret that peripherisation is rampant in Estonia and smaller regions are being drained of people. “This is a concern that I have heard in dozens of local governments in a variety of ways but in the same form,” Reps said. She added that when you stay in the capital you do not perceive peripherisation, as Tallinn is one of the few local governments where the number of residents is constantly increasing. “In the country, however, we have an acute problem that can be seen clearly when you go to the places. Over the last few years, the agricultural crisis has also greatly worsened the situation,” Reps explained. “The cuts in the revenue base of local governments made in 2009, which have still not been restored to the pre-crisis level, have had an even more severe effect on local life. Temporary negative decisions are known to have a bad habit of becoming permanent. These are issues that need to be addressed.”
Paul Varul discussed conformity of the Administrative Reform Act with the Constitution. “Here it must indeed be admitted that this forced merger is permitted; the Constitution does not determine the existing cities and rural municipalities. These borders can also be changed against the will of these cities and rural municipalities, by force on the basis of law. However, the main issue here is that it cannot be done arbitrarily. There must be a good reason here,” Varul said. He said that, when we speak of conformity or non-conformity of the Administrative Reform Act with the Constitution, indeed, the central issue is whether the Administrative Reform Act gives a good reason for us to decide when forced merged could be admissible despite the fact that there is a breach of the Constitution.
“There must be no violation of the Constitution. If a breach becomes so great that it amounts to violation then it is already a conflict, and then something should be done,” Varul said. He analysed the criteria that have been taken as the basis for determining administrative capacity. The main problem is that suitability for administrative capacity, whether the aim is achieved or not, is measured on the basis of one criterion, which is 5000 residents.
Varul pointed out as an example that there are rural municipalities and cities with less than 5000 residents where actually everything is in order, and they are able to ensure public services at a good level and be administratively capable. In Varul’s opinion, it is wrong in principle to set some specific figures as a condition here. He said that we come to the next problem which is connected with the essential lack of judicial protection of local governments to protect their rights. This essential lack of judicial protection means, in effect, that there is nothing to rely on in the administrative court. The problematic provisions should be amended in the Act. “This does not mean that something terrible should happen to the administrative reform; it will not hinder the progress of the reform,” Varul noted.
Veikko Luhalaid said that he has been in the office in Vaivara municipality since 2000, and has also been the Chairman of the Union of Ida-Virumaa County Municipalities for ten years and knows this issue in depth. He has been against it and he has been in favour of it. “Voluntary merger, which I support and which I also promote, urge and steer in my municipality, is totally natural and normal. However, the stage of forced merger could be reconsidered substantially during the next four years, and then we could have enough knowledge to decide and dare take responsibility afterwards,” Luhalaid said. He analysed several problems that have arisen in local governments that do not facilitate the carrying out of the administrative reform. A number of local governments have filed an action with the Supreme Court to obtain a legal opinion relating to the forced merger.
Luhalaid admitted that local governments often have themselves to blame for their troubles, inability or incapacity. Unfortunately, it is a combination of their own fault and their regional location. “There is nothing to be done – if we look into the studies by Geomedia Ltd on the capacity index of local governments, there is absolutely no way to conclude from them that the capacity, capacity index, of local governments with less than 5000 residents or less than 2000 residents is in any way worse than the capacity of local governments with 5000+ residents. Differences in capacity very clearly depend on regional location on the field,” Luhalaid said. In his opinion, a more thorough analysis is needed to make well-considered decisions in the course of carrying out the administrative reform.
Rait Maruste, Külliki Kübarsepp, Siim Kiisler, Kersti Sarapuu, Ivari Padar, Peeter Ernits, Tanel Talve and Igor Gräzin took the floor during the debate and presented their observations.
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