Wednesday’s sitting of the Riigikogu lasted all night. During the second reading of the Administrative Reform Bill, 34 of the 121 motions to amend the Bill that had been submitted were reviewed.
The Administrative Reform Bill (200 SE), initiated by the Government, includes the bases and procedure for carrying out the administrative reform, and determines the minimum size of a local government and the relevant exceptions, and the rights and obligations involved in the merging of local governments.
The objective of the administrative reform is to form local governments that are able to offer 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 Bill, generally at least 5000 people should reside in a local government. At the same time, the Bill sets out that formation of local governments with at least 11,000 residents is recommended to achieve the objective of the administrative reform. Eighty per cent of the local governments of Estonia have less than 5,000 residents today.
According to the Bill, local governments will have time for voluntary mergers until the end of this year, and the Government will pay a merger grant to such local governments. 80 million euro have been planned for that. If, after the voluntary mergers, there will still be 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 either, the Government will merge the local governments.
At the sitting, member of the Constitutional Committee Siim Kiisler discussed the content of the discussions that had been held in the lead committee and gave a closer look at the motions to amend that had been accepted.
Kiisler said that the Constitutional Committee had accepted in substance five motions to amend submitted by the Centre Party Faction. These motions concern simplification of the preservation of the city as a type of local government and the formation of a city, abandonment of the use of the concept of “core city”, and the deadline for entry into force of the Act.
Two motions to amend submitted by the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction had been accepted in part, four had been accepted in substance, and two had been accepted in full by the Committee. Kiisler said that the motions to amend that had been accepted in part concern the taking into account of cultural and geographic particularities in the merger of local governments. The motions to amend that had been accepted in substance concern simplification of the preservation of the city as a type of local government, specification of the wording of the amendment made to the Local Government Organisation Act, and the release from office of rural municipality district elder and city district elder.
Of the motions to amend submitted by the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction, five had been accepted in substance. They concern the formation of the committee who makes recommendations for changes to the administrative-territorial organisation, the possibility of merger of local governments without a common border, simplification of the preservation of the city as a type of local government, abandonment of the use of the concept of “core city” in the Bill, and the release from office of rural municipality district elder and city district elder.
Of the motions to amend submitted by the Social Democratic Party Faction, the Committee had accepted one in part, six in substance and two in full. The motion to amend that had been accepted in part concerns the functions of mayor or elder of a local government settlement unit. The motions to amend that had been accepted in substance concern simplification of the preservation of the city as a type of local government, the possibility of merger of local governments without a common border, the competence of rural municipality district and city district councils, and the appointment to office and release from office of rural municipality district elder and city district elder. The motions to amend that had been accepted in full concern the taking into account of insular particularity in the merger of local governments, and the rights of representatives of rural municipality district councils and city district councils.
The motion to amend submitted by the Constitutional Committee, listed under number 10, consists of 53 sub-items. Kiisler named some of the more important ones. He highlighted that a motion to amend will give local governments the possibility to initiate a merger without a common border in the first stage if it is known that, in the following stage, the Government will merge with them a local government that remains between the local governments. He said that amendments had also been made to the regulation that allows for the preservation of a type of administrative unit. That would omit from the Bill the requirement according to which at least 5000 residents must reside in the city territory if the city as an administrative unit is to be preserved or restored.
With a motion to amend, the term for the establishment of the new statutes of a local government that has been formed will be replaced with a longer term. Another motion to amend will provide for the possibility, in the case of a local government formed as a result of a merger of local governments, to establish the new statutes within six months, instead of four months, after the announcement of election results.
Kiisler also pointed out the sub-item that would amend the Local Government Organisation Act by adding a subsection according to which the investments or development activities agreed upon in a merger agreement will have to be set out also in the local government development plan. Also, a sub-item will amend the procedure for the appointment to office of rural municipality district elder and city district elder, and the following sub-item will amend the procedure for the release from office, respectively. The opinion of the rural municipality district council or city district council will have to be taken into account upon both appointment to office and release from office, Kiisler explained.
Thereafter, Kiisler answered the questions of members of the Riigikogu for nearly three hours, and a debate followed.
Rein Ratas, Heimar Lenk, Külliki Kübarsepp, Tarmo Tamm, Igor Gräzin, Andres Ammas, Erki Savisaar, Marika Tuus-Laul, Monika Haukanõmm, Enn Eesmaa, Aadu Must, Andres Herkel, Artur Talvik, Krista Aru, Märt Sults, Kersti Sarapuu, Jaanus Karilaid, Anneli Ott, Viktor Vassiljev, Uno Kaskpeit, Jaak Madison, Martin Helme, Valeri Korb, Mart Helme, Raivo Põldaru, Oudekki Loone, Peeter Ernits, Henn Põlluaas, Arno Sild, Jüri Adams, Ivari Padar, Mihhail Korb and Kalle Laanet took the floor during the debate.
In their speeches, the debaters pointed out different aspects relating to the carrying out of the reform. In the course of the discussion, it was pointed out that Estonia needs substantial changes, and the revenue base of the local government needs to be increased. The speeches made the point that a reform of local governments is inevitable and necessary, but criticised the too hasty reform, the centralisation of power and the failure to involve the stakeholders.
The Free Party Faction and the Centre Party Faction moved to suspend the first reading of the Bill.
Thereafter, motions to amend were reviewed. 34 motions to amend had been reviewed by the end of the working hours of the sitting,
The Riigikogu passed an Act and a Resolution.
At Wednesday’s sitting, the Riigikogu passed with 68 votes in favour the Act on Amendments to the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure (191 SE), initiated by the Government, which brings the Code into conformity with EU requirements. The requirements concern counterfeiting of the euro and protection of other currencies. The Act provides for a stricter punishment for preparation for counterfeiting of money, bank cards, other payment means, securities, revenue stamps or state fineness marks. At present, such criminal offences are punishable by a fine. The Act provides for up to two years’ imprisonment in addition to that. Also, it will be possible to conduct surveillance activities to detect or prevent such criminal offences. A punishment for misdemeanours is also provided for the case where the head or an employee of a credit or financial institution or another authority involved in the handling of money who is required to check the authenticity and fitness of banknotes and coins fails to do so. The necessary elements of the criminal offences of counterfeiting of money and handling of counterfeit payment means or securities are also specified. Such criminal offences are punishable regardless of whether the counterfeiting is committed by use of legal or illegal facilities.
The Riigikogu passed the Resolution of the Riigikogu “The Granting of a Loan to the European Single Resolution Board” (197 OE), submitted by the Government. The Resolution provides for allowing a loan to the European Single Resolution Board. The loan will serve the purpose of ensuring financial stability and minimising the direct cost arising from a possible banking crisis to taxpayer.
58 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Resolution, 6 were against, and there were 7 abstentions.
Martin Helme, Henn Põlluaas, Jaak Madison and Raivo Põldaru presented arguments against the draft Resolution and did not support it.
The first reading of the Bill on the Repeal of the Registered Partnership Act (185 SE), which had been adjourned due to the end of the working hours on Tuesday, was resumed in the Riigikogu. The Legal Affairs Committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. With 47 votes in favour and 36 against, the Bill was dropped from the proceedings. Jaanus Karilaid, Igor Gräzin, Mark Soosaar and Henn Põlluaas took the floor during the debate.
The Bill on Amendments to the State Funeral Benefits Act (193 SE), initiated by the Centre Party Faction, was also dropped from the proceedings of the Riigikogu. It had been intended to reintroduce the state funeral benefit that had been in force before 1 July 2009. The Social Affairs Committee moved to reject the Bill at the first reading, and this motion was supported with 51 votes in favour and 34 against. Peeter Ernits, Jaak Madison and Mark Soosaar took the floor during the debate.
The deliberation was adjourned due to the end of the working hours of the sitting. The sitting which began on Wednesday, 11 May, at 2 p.m., ended on Thursday, 12 May, at 9.48 a.m.
The Riigikogu will continue the reviewing of the motions to amend the Administrative Reform Bill (200 SE) at Thursday’s sitting at 10 a.m.
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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