Tallinn city government to divest its own domain of political influence

Mayor Taavi Aas (Centre), pictured at the recent March deportations memorial ceremonies in Tallinn.
Mayor Taavi Aas (Centre), pictured at the recent March deportations memorial ceremonies in Tallinn. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Tallinn city government has approved an anti-corruption strategy which it says is aimed at laying down the ''depoliticisation'' of the city's companies and foundations.

The announcement, made on Wednesday, affects both business areas and the election of upper-tier officials, BNS reports. Those with extant sentences concerning professional offenses or the misuse of power, for example, will not be hired as public officials in city agencies and legal entities controlled by the city, as a result of the policy, and additional measures are reportedly to be implemented to ensure that the city's media is politically balanced and not misused in election advertising.

Furthermore, the continued independence of smaller city agencies will be reviewed, involving mergers with other similar bodies, or functions being handed over to the city's authorities, where necessary.

The centralisation of city-wide support functions in real estate management, financial management, information technology, personnel, public procurement and other fields is additionally set to continue, it is reported, with a focus on strengthening Tallinn's internal control system and bringing it in line with international internal audit standards.

External legal advice

The strategy, to be led city's internal audit service, is reportedly also due to update processes and rules in awarding non-profit grants, to ensure legal compliance in the issuing of city grants.

A strategy working group dating back to May 2018, formed at the behest of Tallinn mayor Taavi Aas (Centre), has been led by city secretary Toomas Sepp.

The city has been advised by legal firm Sorainen via an economic crimes' prevention and investigation team, which included former prosecutor general and sworn advocate Norman Aas (no relation to Taavi), former district prosecutor and sworn advocate Merika Nimmo, and partner Carri Ginter.

Norman Aas said that the city government gave Sorainen a free reign regarding both fields of analysis and potential solutions.

Building on prior progress

"At the same time, it became clear in the first few weeks that anti-corruption measures already implemented in the city of Tallinn so far did not actually have any great shortcomings in light of current law, and the required internal order had been confirmed as well as the existence of an internal control system," Norman Aas added.

However, this was not on its own enough to ensure a corruption-free environment in the City of Tallinn, he added.

"Even though the situation has improved significantly, cognitively speaking, in the last couple of years, the problem still lies within the burden of the past, which causes distrust over an actual mental change in city governance. This is why the general expectation was that Tallinn would not be limited to the minimum required by law for corruption prevention," he said.

It also explains why, during the drawing up of the strategy, great emphasis was put on events not involving a direct violation of law, but where the personal interests of officials or political parties may prevail over public interests, according to Norman Aas.

Moving in a Nordic direction

"These are also often the cases where the publicly-declared values are tested the most," he continued.

Mayor Taavi Aas said that both Tallinn and Estonia as a whole subscribe to the Nordic countries' model, where corruption levels are relatively low, and yet people are demanding and critical of public services too.

"This is why we must give it our all, and not be limited to the bare legal minimum. We must take into account the high levels that have become customary in Finland and the Scandinavian countries as a whole, and not be driven by the eastern European-style base whence we originated," he said.

The mayor added that the scandals from previous years have dealt several blows to trust, and restoring this requires consistent effort. The suggestions from Sorainen law will have a significant impact on the existing anti-corruption activity plan, he said.

The strategy is based on thorough analysis of non-profit grants and transactions with city assets, involving interviews with the city's key officials, as well as a survey conducted at city agencies.

Altogether a total of 37 concrete proposals were made for the amendment and realisation of the anti-corruption measures, it is reported.

Tallinn City government has for long been Centre Party-dominated, and has long had something of an image problem arising, as noted above, from legacy issues. Former mayor Edgar Savisaar was involved in a lengthy on-off corruption trial at all three levels of the Estonian court system, 2017-2018, together with several co-defendants including the Centre Party itself, but all charges were dropped.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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