TALLINN - Accusations of bribery against one of Estonia's county governors have prompted critics to again suggest the dismantling of the middle branch of government.
The governor of Valga County, Georg Trasanov, has been accused of receiving tens of thousands of kroons in bribes from the managers of Go Bus, a transport company that won a public tender to operate bus services in the southern region.
Local media reported that Trasanov was allegedly caught with between 30,000 and 40,000 kroons following a meeting with Kalle Muru, a director of Go Bus.
It was reported that Go Bus was attempting to convince the governor to increase government subsidies on regional routes, as rising fuel and labor costs had cut into its bottom line.
Two other members of the Go Bus board, Aivo Parn and Valter Keis, were also named by Kapo, the investigative police branch, as suspects of aiding bribery.
All four suspects were taken into custody by Kapo on Oct. 24 and were released on Oct. 26 pending an investigation.
Minister of regional affairs Vallo Reimaa seized on the yet-to-be-tested allegations as further argument for an overhaul of regional government structures.
Reimaa said the alleged bribery demonstrated that county governors should not handle tasks that should be carried out by municipal governments.
Reimaa suggested that the few remaining roles of county governments should be delegated to local councils. He said concerns over the transparency of county governments had also been raised by the Chancellor of Justice and the state auditor's office.
County governors have come under increasing attack from the national government, with several ministers suggesting their offices be abolished. Their role as the middle tier of government has diminished in recent years, and they now preside over few functions.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip stated his desire to reorganize regional governments during a public meeting in April shortly after his re-election.
"It is evident that county governors aren't playing such a big role in our lives anymore," Ansip said.
When one county governor attempted to test his authority, he was quickly pulled back in line by the regional affairs minister. Harju County governor Varner Lootsmann tried to impose restrictions on alcohol sales across the summer in the interests of public order, but Reimaa found he had acted outside his sphere of power.