TALLINN – The state and local governments on Thursday discussed the possibilities of decentralization, that is the transfer of responsibilities from the state to local governments, in the field of social protection in Estonia.
A new model of cooperation between local governments and the state, according to which cities and rural municipalities would have greater rights to organize services, was discussed with representatives of local governments and possible activities until 2035 were reviewed, spokespeople for the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities said.
The focus of both the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities is on people and their well-being. The aim of decentralization, that is the transfer of responsibilities from the state to local governments, is to achieve better availability of services, greater efficiency, less red tape, and consideration of the needs of the population.
The Ministry of Social Affairs wants to agree with local governments on what services and assistance would be reasonable to organize at the local level. Rait Kuuse, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Social Affairs for social policy, said that local authorities have an important role to play in ensuring people's well-being. "We are open to discussion on how to provide people with the necessary support comfortably, close to home and comprehensively, taking also into account the needs of family members and relatives," Kuuse said.
Jan Trei, deputy director of the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities, said that now, almost four years after the implementation of the administrative reform, local governments have become larger and more capable, and preconditions have been created for discussions on whether and which state services and tasks it would be reasonable and expedient to start handing over to local governments.
"An important role of the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities as the largest representative organization of local governments is to negotiate decentralization plans, financing models and financial autonomy with the central government and to reflect the willingness and readiness of local governments to organize new tasks," Trei said. "It must also be constantly monitored that each new task assigned to the local government is accompanied by sufficient funding to fulfill it."
Sulev Liivik, head of the department for financial management of municipalities at the Ministry of Finance, said that the way in which the financing of local services is organized plays a major role in the success of decentralization. "The right of Estonian local governments to tax is low and there is a lot of dependence on targeted subsidies," Liivik said. "Our and international experience shows that greater freedom of local governments to decide on their budgets supports the improvement of the quality, efficiency and availability of services, and thus the well-being of the people living there can be increased. Each municipality knows better which solutions work best in their area."
In order to implement the changes, local governments need to be empowered and supported by the state, among other things, to carry out developments and trainings and to improve IT solutions.