No. 48



The State Reform Bag of Opportunities Is Not Empty Yet

For quite a while now, debates of varying intensity have been held in Estonia about the state reform. How to make our state more efficient so that it would better meet the needs of its inhabitants without governance becoming too thin?

Some things have been done over the years since the Estonian state was established but there are still things to do. What could be done more specifically, was discussed in the panel discussion of Riigikogu Toimetised on 15 November by Jaak Aab (Centre Party), Raimond Kaljulaid (Social Democratic Party), Maris Lauri (Reform Party), Andres Metsoja (Isamaa) and Igor Taro (Estonia 200). Jaak Valge (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) replied to the questions in writing later.

Jaak Aab: Quite a few Governments have had an action plan for state reform before. This should be continued systematically. In the course of this process, the Transport Administration and the Youth Department were established, the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate were merged, and two agricultural agencies were merged. These structures were analysed. At best, duplications at the management level and department level could be removed and all support services could be consolidated. Over time, these support services have gradually been transferred to the State Shared Service Centre, and its activities must be continued.

It will be necessary to review the areas where activities overlap and to consolidate support services – such is the simple formula.

The quality of databases and registries is a serious bottleneck. We will not be able to go on with the digital governance services before databases will have been sorted out. There is a wide field ahead of us when we speak of data that local governments could use or when we speak of the cross-use of national and local government data.

Andres Metsoja: Speaking of the state reform in a broad sense, it can be said that, after the elimination of county governors, and the administrative reform, which was implemented by taking the middle path, that was possible at the time, actually nothing more has happened. What has happened is that no one is actually coordinating the education network organisation which is supposed to function without borders, and which should have those responsible for it in counties as well because it cannot be within the competence of one municipality only.

We have not been able to change the paradigm that local government as such is a competitor to its inhabitants, and the person is an instrument with their tax money. This cannot be the meaning of the Estonian state.

A management system that would function across local government should be established for Estonia. Local government is a unit within administrative borders, but people do not think in terms of administrative borders. All activities, be it public transport or all the issues relating to education network and jobs, are increasingly gravitating to centres and this is a conscious choice in the Estonian state. We cannot do all things in a decentralised manner anyway. We cannot afford to uphold it. It is inevitable, however, that the state can be managed only with the money that is created in economy.

Maris Lauri: When we speak of local governments, it should be considered if it is possible to go on with more administrative mergers and administrative issues – some local governments are really small and cannot manage on their own due to their small size. A larger issue with every local government is what they decide on and what they are responsible for. Everybody likes to get money but not so much to have responsibility.

Some local governments are managing very well because they have thought through how they do things. However, these changes come with great difficulties in some local governments.

There are services and things where it is necessary to operate across local government borders. A better version is when local governments find cooperation opportunities and solutions themselves, and the state is not telling them where they have to cooperate.

Estonia 200 is speaking of a personal state. I would speak of means-tested support and assistance. So that support would go to those who need it.

It is said from time to time that we are following all kinds of stupid rules with German punctuality and diligence and are overdoing it in several aspects. Rules must be met to obtain authorisations in production processes. But how have they been constructed, what is asked and who is asked? Does the particular production need precisely such regulations? The whole process should start with giving an enterprising person or a business advice on what must be done to get things done.

Let us organise the work of our local governments and distribute the tasks: what the tasks of the state are, what the tasks of local government are and what local governments do together.

Raimond Kaljulaid: I would point out what is currently going on around spatial planning. I very much hope that the process will lead to amendments to the Planning Act that will simplify and shorten the planning process. One of the obstacles for Estonian economy is definitely the extremely slow processing of all kinds of spatial plans and authorisations. It is partly a legislative problem and partly an organisational problem in local governments. When the largest local government in Estonia is hardly able to process one detailed spatial plan in a month, we all understand that we are going to end up with not having enough spatial plans in force at some point.

There is a considerable consensus in the Riigikogu on the issue of increasing the transparency of the state budget. It is impossible to understand the state budget in its proposed form.

As to the plan for state reform, I liked the process very much. The problem is that, by now, Estonia has become a welfare state that is managing relatively well, and departmental and social inertia is setting in.

The Riigikogu would need additional resources so that there would be less bureaucracy and maybe for curbing the proliferation of the state apparatus in certain issues.

Igor Taro: Where do our needs for legislation come from anyway? There are always some kind of political priorities the implementation of which requires amendment of Acts. This is first. The second path is the constitutionality assessments that we get from the Supreme Court or the Chancellor of Justice and in the case of which we generally have no choice. The third path is that life keeps changing and because of that certain amendments must be made in Acts.

For example, we are due to have our discussion on the issue of nuclear energy, and if the Riigikogu decides that this type of energy could be used in this country, we will have no other choice than to draft yet another Act, and a decent Act, for that matter. Yet another agency will be established, a nuclear energy regulator. Life is becoming more complicated, and regulations are becoming more complicated because of that.

As regards the tasks of local governments, there should be no “holy cows”. The situation should be reviewed if life has changed. However, we have obstacles in going on with these changes.

Jaak Valge: At the first opportunity, let us make amendments to the Constitution to allow direct election of the President of the Republic and to introduce the popular initiative to organise referendums. If this opportunity existed now, we would have no crisis of parliamentarism or the need for obstruction. The current correlation of political forces in the parliament that does not remotely correspond to the support of society makes it possible to push through decisions that are totally contrary to the attitudes of the majority of society.

In order to improve the quality of the work of the state sector, understandable selection criteria and actual competition will have to be ensured in the selection of higher state officials. It will be necessary to reduce the share of people working in the government sector which is dramatically higher than in Europe on the average. In the case of the laws and regulations proposed by European Union institutions, it will be necessary to use a finer sieve and to refuse to adopt the ones that are unsuitable to us.