Rait Maruste: Rural affairs minister's proposal realistic
Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller's (EKRE) proposal to consider giving people the right to decide a part of their income tax contribution should go to a different local government finally constitutes something tangible next to so much talk of what would, could and should be done, Rait Maruste writes.
The fact that local governments are having trouble performing their tasks using their existing revenue base in the conditions of dwindling populations is hardly news. This long-term trend has now been clearly and neutrally voiced in the National Audit Office's warning of deepening peripherization outside Tallinn and Tartu.
Aller's proposal should not only be considered but realized. More so in a situation where the ruling coalition recently gave people more say in terms of their pension savings. The same freedom and ideology would be represented by allowing people to decide whether they want to support the local government of their summer or second home.
Local governments that maintain people's roads and local infrastructure, collect their waste, process their plans and activity licenses, provide first contact medical care and must ensure local rescue and police services etc.
Another part of this reality is that local residents and those maintaining summer homes are usually two different communities that only come together around Midsummer Night fires (organized by local governments) where one can often see adults and kids of the area for the first time.
The band is paid for and the site cleaned up afterwards by the local government. When a person contributes to the local budget, their interest and connection with a place grow and they begin feeling responsible for how local life works.
Such a decision could go a long way among voters if made prior to local government council elections. The reason why local government heads in Tallinn and the recent minister have given the initiative the cold shoulder is clear – any such decision would be detrimental to their revenue base, albeit to a marginal extent.
They have also made sure Estonia is still treated as a single territory as far as European subsidies are concerned, even though EU rules would allow dividing the country into several zones depending on regional prosperity. In other words, Tallinn and the wealthy outlying municipalities are drawing from the same pot as Setomaa and Lääneranna. The reason is once again that the same people are in charge of the country as are Tallinn.
Another thing the current outspokenly patriotic coalition needs to be reminded of is the preamble of the Estonian Constitution that deals with the survival of the Estonian people, language and culture throughout the ages and serves as a programmatic goal.
The Estonian people, language and culture were born in the countryside, not in cities and especially not in Tallinn. And the countryside is where they can be preserved and develop as we know and take pride in. Of course, this is only possible if conditions have been created that must include tangible attention and actions by the government instead of merely declarative goals.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski