Regional minister: Islands may also need special representative in future

Madis Kallas.
Madis Kallas. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In an interview with ERR, Estonian Minister of Regional and Rural Affairs Minister Madis Kallas (SDE) said, that the creation of a special representative for Ida-Viru County is a difficult process, which has also been made more challenging due to the government's current focus on the tax reform process. Kallas also said, that having a special representative for the islands and other regions of Estonia could also be a possibility in the future.

How far are you in the process of finding a special representative for Ida-Viru County?

At the moment, we have asked for and have received, further input from representatives of universities in Ida-Viru County, for example. We have also been in contact with people from state authorities. The work is ongoing. However, as there are a number of urgent things going on in the Riigikogu, both for myself and the other ministers, that is why we have also said that this will continue to be a priority for us, but we don't want to rush it. People at the Ministry of Finance are putting this package together. I've given them an extra week to come up with a good input document like this, on the basis of which we, along with the people in the government delegation, will select the person [for the role].

Do you already have specific candidates who you are choosing from? How will that process work?

There are a few different names that have been suggested, but we have said that the order [of the process] should be reversed. That first we get all the input and then from there, we look at what the focus should be. We are starting to see something emerge from that. After that, we'll look at how and in what way to make the search, because this [person] will be a government representative and so it's not like a typical [open] competition. They still have to be a representative of today's governing coalition in the region, and vice versa, to bring the issues of the region to the current government.

Do you think that (Mayor of Narva) Katri Raik would be a good fit for the role?

In principle, yes. It is important for us that there is someone who knows Ida-Viru County and that they know the background there. However, I am not prepared to discuss any names before we have the whole thing, the vision document in place. What that person's tasks will be, the possible structure and the team. We also have an additional agreement among the coalition, that all three coalition parties will discuss this together.

When will this vision document be ready and have you also considered a date by which the name of the representative will be known?

I hope that we will be able to start interviewing candidates from June 26. However, I will not feel uncomfortable if I end up having to apologize on June 26, to say that it will actually be delayed for some reason. It is important to conduct this process as effectively as possible. And it is not bound by any deadline. Ideally we may even be able to identify the right person by June.

As someone who is seeing this process from the inside, in what ways would you say that it might be difficult to find suitable candidates?

It is quite difficult, simply on the basis that the expectations from the press are also pretty high and Ida-Viru County already faces big enough challenges. It is going to be quite difficult. Fortunately, there are good people, both in Ida-Viru County and elsewhere. We are certain that we will find a good candidate or candidates.

Is this also the reason why this process has taken somewhat longer than you initially anticipated? A few weeks ago, you were more optimistic about finding a special representative.

The debate on the reforms to local government income tax, along with a number of other fast-moving issues that are currently being debated in the government and the Riigikogu, have simply taken up so much time. And, as I have the opportunity to deal with the issue of Ida-Viru County in a little more depth, that is the reason why I have said that we will not rush into it. In fact, almost every week, candidates have been put forward and names continue to be added all the time.

Just choosing is hard?

I hadn't really thought about it in that way. How it would be for example, if I had to make a choice today, if I were to put these names on the table now, or if, Eesti 200 and the Reform Party or representatives of the business community or the local authorities in the region, for example, put their preferred names forward.

I think that by now everyone is familiar enough with the issues related to Ida-Viru County and will certainly be aware of what the expectations are. On the one hand, choosing between people is always difficult. But, on the other hand, there are always good people to choose from.

So, what makes the process difficult for you?

Setting those expectations and objectives. The person we can become. Let's imagine that we now have a representative for Ida-Viru County, who is ready to begin their work. However, the real question, for that person, for me and for the government is 'what are the expectations?' and 'what are the criteria by which we measure their performance and effectiveness?' We still want to provide people with clear expectations of how the current government sees this.

Maybe then there is no need for this position (to be created)?

This has also come up in some of the memos that have been sent to us, but up to now at least, I haven't see [anyone reach] that kind of a conclusion. So far, everyone has said, that any additional support from the state is very welcome and they certainly want this kind of person, so I think that will be the case.

I myself, as regional minister, also see that it is extremely difficult to simply give as much attention to each region as I would like. What is needed is good, meaningful help for the regions - someone who can certainly keep regional inequality and other regional issues in focus, as well as provide even better solutions.

Why does Ida-Viru County need a special representative? Why not also create a special representative role for Võru County or the islands?

People who know Ida-Viru County better suggested the idea of having an additional government representative there. But, as an islander, I can say, that in fact there could be a special representative for the Estonian islands, to, for example, provide a regional perspective. We see all the time how being disconnected  from mainland Estonia has a pretty big impact in terms of connectivity and crisis resolution.

[We are focusing on] the role of the regional representative in Ida-Viru County at the moment, but in the future, why not have regional government representatives in other parts of Estonia as well? Whether that is in South-East Estonia, Central Estonia or wherever there is a need to solve more specific issues. That is why, I trust those who know Ida-Viru County as well as I dare say I know the issues related to the islands.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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