Alo Lõhmus: Administrative reform and the accuracy of the population registry ({{commentsTotal}})

Columnist Alo Lõhmus.
Columnist Alo Lõhmus. Source: (Private library)

The disappearance of local governments from the Estonian map is a radical but no doubt effective motivator for registering one’s actual place of residence in the country's population register. Thus there is reason to hope that, regardless of how the population itself is doing at the moment, the country can get at least the population register into model order, Alo Lõhmus finds in his opinion piece.

A great hunt for souls came to an end at the end of the old year. Local governments kept close tabs on the citizens, i.e. taxpayers, on their lists and desperately tried to attract more in order to avoid getting caught in a forced merger or at least earn heftier compensation for voluntarily merging.

For example, in the merger between the town of Paide, Paide Municipality and Roosna-Alliku Municipality, they came up 150 people short of qualifying for the supplemental merger grant from the government meant for [new] municipalities with populations of [at least] 11,000 — half a million euros.

In order to get more residence registrations, a car, dozens of tablets and gift cards were raffled off. The drive was a success — the three local governments’ total population rose to 11,130 by the end of the year. The new local government being formed is now a whole large one-time sum richer; how many of these "new" residents will continue directing their taxes to Paide Municipality is a problem for the future.

There are also a number of municipalities whose populations come up just short of the government-imposed minimum population size of 5,000 and are hoping for the government to show them mercy. For example, 4,100 people live in Tartu County’s Nõo Municipality and as the municipality is perfectly capable of fulfilling its tasks, they plan on asking the government for the opportunity to carry on independently.

Whether or not this will be allowed for anyone beyond small islands remains open. On a recent trip to Hiiumaa, Minister of Public Administration Mihhail Korb (Center) said that the 5,000-resident minimum requirement is set in stone in the law and that this is what they must go on, and that a municipality with a population of 1,500 will remain an exception rather than a rule. And so municipalities whose numbers in the government’ so-called Excel spreadsheet reflecting population size are too small are facing nervous times.

But do those numbers reflect the actual situation in the case of local governments currently reporting the exceeding of the magical 5,000 minimum in the united municipalities being formed?

For thousands, officially registered and actual places of residence don't match up for thousands

 

According to Statistics Estonia data, 118,300 people live in Estonia whose actual place of residence does not match their registered place of residence. These people are officially the citizens of one local government but in reality live somewhere else.

It is no doubt logical to suggest that typically these are people who have moved to Tallinn or some other bigger city that have kept their birth municipality as their official place of residence either out of forgetfulness or for nostalgic, hometown-patriotic or other personal reasons. Now this birth municipality is disappearing, dissolving into a giant local government with an unfamiliar name with which one no longer has an emotional tie.

It can be expected that many of these 118,000 people will update their registry data to reflect their actual situation and register themselves as residents of big cities. This means, however, even more tax money leaving the countryside and its concentration into already prosperous cities. A number of large municipalities with a current population of 5,000 according to the math may in reality end up falling below the critical level.

But there is no bad without a silver lining. The mismatch of many people’s actual and registered place of residence is currently the biggest obstacle to the registry-based census planned for 2020. This was indicated in the trial census conducted last year, which is why Statistics Estonia recommended local governments to motivate people to register their actual addresses with the population registry.

The disappearance of local governments from the Estonian map is a radical but no doubt effective motivator for registering one’s actual place of residence in the country's population register. Thus there is reason to hope that, regardless of how the population itself is doing at the moment, the country can get at least the population register into model order.

Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla



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