Less local government needed

  • 2000-12-07
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The administrative reform of local governments has reached a new level when county governors submitted their proposed changes to Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus on Dec. 1.

The ministry hopes to process the suggestions by Christmas.

According to the projects of all 15 Estonian county heads, the current number of local governments (247) should be trimmed to between 85 and 100.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Merike Taal said Loodus will present the revised projects to the national government next April and author legislation on the administrative reform in May 2001.

Tallinn Mayor Juri Mois, who recently visited a new technology conference in Washington devoted to e-governments and was apparently inspired by it, offered to unite the whole country under the authority of one power institution - the Parliament. Mois as an experienced manager who headed Hansabank and the Ministry of Interior Affairs before becoming Tallinn's mayor, sees the Internet as an effective tool for administrative reform.

The availability and quality of public databases published on the Internet determines the success of e-governments, according to Mois. He also stressed that the joining of all local governments into one would essentially save administration costs.

Local government budgets total about 10 billion kroons or one third of Estonia's state budget for the year 2001. At least 3 billion kroons are assigned to Tallinn. The question Mois asked the state government through the media was: Why should there be more than a hundred local governments in the rest of the country when only one government copes with the city of Tallinn which accommodates one-third of the whole population?

"Asian experience proves it is possible to comprise up to 10 million residents into one self-governing unit," said Mois.

This plan, as well as Mois' promise to answer all e-mails he would receive, seems farfetched to other political forces. The moderate said that cutting down the number of local governments is not an end in itself.

The moderates stated on Nov. 2 that it is abnormal that only 15 of 247 presently existing local governments manage to make ends meet while the rest of them depend upon state funding.

In order to improve local governments' final situations, the moderates suggest adding a part of excise and value-added taxes collected in certain county and subcounty into the income base of the governments.

The Ministry of Interior Affairs also find Mois' idea unreal and unnecessary, according to Taal.

At a lunch with county governors held in the presidential palace on Nov. 29 Estonian President Lennart Meri said the administrative reform is a five- or 10-year project and that its success would simply be its acceptance by residents.

According to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, one third of Estonian local governments are not performing the tasks expected of them. The reforms will cost approximately 150 million to 200 million kroons and most of this sum will have to be spent in 2002, said Taal.

A number of local governments' officials will lose their jobs, said Taal, "But the goal of the reform is not just to fire some officials but to improve the general quality of public administration."

Estonia currently has 15 counties divided into numerous subcounties that make 247 local governments. Before World War II there were 389.