Riigikogu passes administrative reform bill
The Riigikogu passed the government’s administrative reform bill on Tuesday. The new law will substantially change the administrative division of the country and reduce the number of local governments and parishes.
Of the 95 members of parliament present, 56 votes in favor and 38 against. Minister of Public Administration Arto Aas (Reform) said before the vote that the reform was already ongoing, as most parishes were already in merger negotiations.
IRL: The new law could have been more ambitious
MP Siim Kiisler (IRL), himself a former Minister of Regional Affairs, said that the law could have been more ambitious. Kiisler introduced a plan in 2012 according to which every county would have chosen one to three local centers, around which parishes would then have merged. IRL’s plan for the administrative reform could have avoided the current turmoil around mergers and financial incentives, Kiisler said.
Kiisler’s plan included criteria such as a minimum number of 10,000 residents per parish, and important public services being located within a 30-minute drive. The new law demands a minimum of 5,000 residents per parish, but sets financial incentives to get as many parishes with at least 11,000 residents as possible.
Opposition: The reform doesn't have any substance
The opposition parties criticize that the reform doesn’t answer important questions dealing with the finances of parishes. Other objections include that local governments won’t have more power to decide matters themselves, and that the problem of the marginalization of remote communities hasn’t been addressed.
MP Kersti Sarapuu (Center) said that the basic problem of the parishes’ income base still hadn’t been addressed. While word had been going around that the parishes would receive government support, for the time being the financial problems would remain the same, bigger parishes notwithstanding.
The parishes have until the end of the year to enter into merger negotiations voluntarily. If they do, the government will pay an incentive. If they don’t, the government will step in and settle the restructuring of administrative borders centrally.
The aims of the new law, according to the coalition, is to produce larger and more efficient parishes, increase the competitiveness of regions, offer the best possible public services, and pay an incentive to all those who see the need for reform and follow the call for mergers already this year.
The proverbial pig in a poke
But a lot of questions remain unanswered. “The reform adopted today in a nutshell is nothing but a mechanical redrawing of the map of Estonia, its actual substance is to follow with complementary law,” Sarapuu said. The MPs who voted in favor of the reform bill today had literally bought the proverbial pig in a poke, she added. “We’re left to wait and see what this law actually is, because it’s clear that without any kind of substance, nothing is going to come of this administrative reform.”