Administrative reform beyond redrawn municipal borders

"Let's preserve our freedom to decide for ourselves - register as a resident of Kiili": The municipalities are painfully aware of the risk of losing their local identity (ERR)
3/15/2016 4:43 PM
Category: News

The government’s administrative reform bill was introduced to the Riigikogu on Monday, and the Ministry of Finance provided an overview of likely territorial changes on Tuesday. Still missing is an idea what the reform will actually consist of beyond the redrawing of borders.

Reformiradar is watching events closely. The site, intended to follow the government's reform efforts, was created by Tallinn governance think tank Praxis and the Estonian Employers’ Confederation. Looking for answers, ERR News talked to Praxis’ Katrin Pihor.

At last, things are moving

Pihor said that the government’s efforts to tackle administrative reform should be appreciated, as the topic had been debated for years while no action had been taken. She also agrees with the principle that the municipalities to be should have a minimum of 11,000 residents. However, the government shouldn’t limit itself to redrawing the municipalities’ borders.

“It’s important not to limit the administrative reform to drawing new borders. This should be followed by a revision of tasks between the state and local governments, including guaranteeing their financial autonomy and reconsidering the role and size of the counties,” Pihor said.

Marginalization and a lack of identity

Professor Sulev Mäeltsemees of the Tallinn University of Technology expressed concerns on Mar. 10 about a new marginalization wave. Places that already weren’t getting attention could hope for even less after the reform, he said. Pihor agreed with Mäeltsemees’ opinion and also brought up the matter of local identity.

“The question of local identity and how this is connected with policymaking remains an unsolved issue. However, the current model of local government doesn’t solve this problem either,” Pihor said. She also pointed out that an important question was how local communities could participate in the shaping of future government policy, how they could represent their interests, and what the shape of its representation should be. This would involve basic issues like local elections as well.

How financial support will affect the reform process

The intended support for the merged municipalities, especially a €500,000 payment to those who reached the goal of a minimum population of 11,000 people, was something Pihor said she wasn’t able to comment on, as it wasn’t clear what the investment and supervisory mechanisms would be. “But the amount of money is considerable and would allow new local governments to get votes in favor of a merger by showing that a public service like schools or recreation facilities could be renovated,” she said. Pihor went on to say this would be a sign that public service had indeed improved as a result of the merger.

About the payment the outgoing municipal mayors would receive, Pihor said that a lot of them had no other incentive to let go of their position, and that this approach provided an alternative for them and would work to soften their resistance.

Better public service?

Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) repeated several times introducing his government’s administrative reform bill on Monday that the new model would bring the best possible public service. Just what this service will look like is the one important detail nobody knows about.

Pihor said that this was the most complicated part. “There’s no evidence that larger local governments will provide better public services. Yes, there will be a scale effect, and they might become more professional in what they do, but everything depends on the form and application of the services,” she said.

“So far we haven't been able to define a lowest common denominator of all public services, we haven’t able to define a measure of the quality of these services. I don't see the need for example to merge schools or care homes physically. We could have teachers travelling across a municipality, working in different small schools, or we could have care homes located in different parts of it, and their management and administration would be merged,” Pihor said. She added that this would be an important part of improving quality and efficiency.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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