Combating corruption and a lack of transparency in Narva, particularly as €340-million in European Union money is due to reach the city in support of its transitioning away from dependence on the oil shale sector, were topics in focus at a recent panel discussion featuring candidates running in the local elections in the eastern border town on October 17.
Appearing on Vikerraadio broadcast "Elimisstuudio" on Tuesday, former Narva mayor Katri Raik said more transparency was needed in the activities of the town's governance.
She said: "The structure of the city government should be made clearer, and a unified accounting system should be established," adding that city councilors should no longer be paid for holding the post, and a city government-published newspaper should be wound up.
Mihhail Stalnuhhin (Center) said that council decisions should be taken jointly, including the restoration of opposition councilors within council committees.
As a city long dominated by the oil shale industry – from quarrying through to refining and burning in power stations – Narva has been the subject of much focus in relation to the EU-led Green Turn.
EU funds of €340 million coming
A total of €340 million has been earmarked via the EU's Fair Transition Fund, towards mitigating the effects of the decline in the industry, for instance on employment.
Janek Odinec (EKRE) says his party opposes the green turn in its current form, and its councilors would vote against some of the initiatives related projects.
Odinec added that job creation in Narva was more important.
Raik said that transparency in the use of the EU funds relating to the Green Turn was paramount, including communicating with the people of the city and explaining where the money will go.
€200 million of the funds should be spent on job creation, promptly and intelligently, she said.
Denis Larchenko (Eesti 200) said his party's manifesto includes the creation of a web environment where voters can monitor how and where their money is used.
The city should have definite goals, the position it wants to reach and at what point in time, Larchenko added.
The former industrial district of Kreenholm, situated on an islet in the Narva River, and its potential development into a cultural quarter could see the city put up several hundred thousand euros a year towards this, though Mihhail Stalnuhhin said this should be capped at €20,000, and should be confined to the head of the foundation responsible for the development.
Stalnuhhin said: "Such is the mentality of the people of Narva. At the moment, noone believes that anything is going to happen there. When we can see that people are working there, we can shoulder the burden," Stalnuhhin said.
Raik hit out at this, calling it the typical Narva mentality of not cooperating with the state simply for the sake of not doing so, and as a result not seeing any development either.
Raik: Hospital needs expanding
Of other investments and at the prompting of host Juri Nikolajev, Katri Raik said a new building at the city's lone hospital was needed.
She said: "A new building for Narva Hospital needs to be built, a new care home and day center. We definitely need a better network of streets and sidewalks. And we definitely need to continue renovating our school and kindergarten buildings."
Denis Larchenko said investing loan money in industrial parks was not viable, while Katri Raik said that Narva dwellers would like more greenery and water features in the city, and this should be taken into account in urban planning and in repurposing currently derelict sites.
Janek Odinets said the demolition of the many derelict buildings which dot the city should go ahead, while social housing should be erected instead.
However, Stalnuhhin said, the problem is that not all, largely empty, buildings have no residents whatsoever.
He said: "Show me the person who is going to explain to the apartment owner that he has to move out of this house because this house is going to be demolished."
Katri Raik also called for restructuring the Baltic power station, an oil-shale fueled facility, with a view to keeping heating prices stable.
One of the power station's by-products is, of course, hot water, which is piped into the town itself and provides the bulk of heating energy during winter.
Janek Odinec also praised Mikhail Stalnuhhin for his views on the Kreenholm initiative. "In order to restore a foundation in this form again, the question arises as to why. This foundation needs to be given more content and viewed as a whole," he said.
Denis Larchenko said the residential zones as a whole, and not just Kreenholm, require redevelopment, while Janek Odinets said his party supported setting up a fund for apartment building renovation. Katri Raik called for taking into account a falling population in the city when planning.
Education and waste management were also on the table during the panel discussion.
Katri Raik was mayor with the Social Democratic Party (SDE) until she lost a vote of no-confidence, in August. Ants Liimets is current mayor.
Raik is now running in an electoral alliance named after her.
Also appearing were Mihhail Stalnuhhin, the Center Party's top-listed candidate in Narva, EKRE candidate Janek Odinec and Eesti 200 candidate Denis Larchenko.
Another former mayor, Alexei Jevgrafov, is also running with an electoral alliance, Elagu Narva, but the group did not send a representative to the debate.
Juri Nikolajev and Arp Müller were hosts.
Electoral alliances are peculiar to the local elections and see candidates running in a municipality-specific group, as an alternative to the major political parties. While there are fewer running this year than in previous local elections, they are still significant, including two putting up candidates in Tallinn.
Narva politics itself has long been particularly tumultuous, with votes of no-confidence, breakaway groups from mainstream parties and other incidents about par for the course. Ants Liimets, the current mayor, was expelled from the Reform Party in late August.
The city is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking; that the nationalist EKRE are running their can be explained largely in the appeal some of its stances on social issues reportedly have among many Russian-speakers, and also in terms of filling a void left by the decline in support for Center
Editor: Andrew Whyte