Henn Põlluaas, former mayor of Saue and current EKRE MP, said local governments should be an extension to the central government and the state.
In a ETV program on administrative reform, Public Administration Minister Arto Aas (Reform Party) said an expert commission tackled the question of which criteria is the most important for functioning local governments. He said the commission concluded that population was the most important factor.
“Once that was known, it was calculated how big it should be. There were three main alternatives on the table: 3,500, 5,000 and 11,000. Each has its own argument but it is clear that 5,000 received the most backing,” Aas said.
He said they have analyzed which tasks a local government should fill, how to improve the financial situation of municipalities, how to reorganize county-level governing, adding that these topics will receive more focus in the next six months. “The real wish is that the capability of local governments would increase, that we would move towards the Nordic model, where the role of the local government is bigger.”
Siim Kiisler (IRL), a former regional affairs minister, which was the predecessor of the public administration ministry, said Estonia has lagged behind its neighbors when it comes to administrative reform. He said Lithuania pushed the reform through 15 years ago and now has only 60 municipalities, while Estonia, which is smaller, has over 200. “If we want to be success-orientated – simple administrative organization, easy to understand tax system, e-state etc. – then our local government system should be similar, ambitious – strong and clear reform,” he added.
Kiisler said that the longer a reform is postponed, the more radical it will have to be. He said 11,000 people should be the goal for a minimum municipality size.
Administrative reform was one of the biggest sources of friction between the Reform Party and IRL, during the two parties coalition between 2011-2014. IRL wanted to force local governments to merge, but the Reform Party was against any forced moves.
Center Party MP Jüri Ratas said local governments should also, in addition to current responsibilities, deal with supporting business and the economic environment, and creating jobs, on a local level. In addition, healthcare, specially general practitioners, should be funded by municipalities. He said funding should also be provided to local governments to cover those costs.
Põlluaas said population is not the most important figure, adding that Statistics Estonia calculated that a municipality with 3,000 strong population is able to manage just fine. He said power and financing are the two reasons for problems municipalities currently face.
“A municipality should be the extension of the state and the government, the direct link to a citizen, but currently, this is not the case. Today, that arm has been amputated and left by itself. We have repeatedly asked in the Parliament, if the financing level of the pre-economic-crisis period will be restored. Sadly not,” he said.
He said the aim of the reform is to solve all problems, which local governments currently face. “But all problems are in fact more complicated and deeper than can be solved by merely merging,” Põlluaas said, adding that merging local governments into larger units should be the last topic, after tackling other administrative reform problems.
Editor: J.M. Laats