No. 13




Decentralization of the Government of Tallinn

13 June 2006


RiTo No. 13, 2006

  • Sulev Mäeltsemees

    Sulev Mäeltsemees

    Professor Emeritus, Tallinn University of Technology

  • Mikk Lõhmus

    Mikk Lõhmus

    Ph.D., Adviser, Local Government Policy Department, Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture

The emergence of cities 100-150 years ago raised social and economic issues among which city management, especially its expedient decentralisation by means of city districts, occupies a prominent place. In the Republic of Estonia, city districts were established in the 1930s.

In Tallinn, city districts were formed in 1993 as part of the process of democratic reorganization and re-establishment of local governments. City districts differ in terms of population (the difference in population between the districts of Lasnamäe and Pirita is more than tenfold). The principal criterion for establishing district boundaries was the similarity of the socio-economic problems to be solved, not the size of the city district. At the same time, the opinion of the local people, also expressed by citizens’ associations such as societies etc, was important.

After the 1993 municipal election, much work was done to introduce a new management system in Tallinn. City districts were granted quite significant rights to organise their affairs. The Local Government Organisation Act adopted in 1993 did not regulate the issue of city districts in detail. Tallinn was expected to make suggestions as to how to amend the Act.

Unfortunately, before any suggestions could be made—which would have required generalisation of our own experience as well as studying city management of other countries—centralisation of management began in Tallinn. The process received a fresh impetus after the 1999 municipal election. The centralisation process that had begun in Tallinn continued over the following years when mayors, deputy mayors and also city district managers as political appointees were replaced. The branch executive officers of municipal boards were in a service relationship with the city without a term and successfully able to use political instability to strengthen their own positions.

In order to exclude the possibility of introducing changes in the city management based on purely political emotions, Tallinn City Government decided in 2003 to commission Tallinn University of Technology to make as comprehensive a study of the situation and problems of the city management as possible.

The university proceeded from the principle that the activities of a local government as an institution proceed from the democratic values of the society; various management instruments are but means to foster them. These values—autonomy, subsidiarity and democracy—have found an outlet in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. While autonomy can be addressed only as the basis of the relations between the central government and local governments, democracy and subsidiarity are directly applicable to city management. In addition to this, the principle of subsidiarity is the binding factor of economic and social effectiveness.

The study proves that there is an imbalance between the rights, obligations and responsibility of various instruments of city management. A dozen years after the city districts were formed in Tallinn, their legal and financial means to perform local tasks have been rendered almost nonexistent. At the same time, city districts differ in terms of a number of social characteristics. Therefore, taking any decisions requires a good knowledge of local conditions. The branches of municipal boards lack sufficient means to supervise and manage provision of public services of local importance; there are also problems with speed of response and solving problems as a whole. Recommendations to improve and reorganise management in Tallinn were made on the basis of the study.

In general, effective city management was considered necessary. It must be flanked with ensuring and developing democracy. The public administration principles of the European Union—subsidiarity and good governance that require citizen friendliness—must be adhered to also in case of city management. In various socio-economic areas, city districts with their rights as well as financial resources, obligations and responsibility are the ones responsible for guaranteeing rapid and effective development of the city as a whole. City districts must be granted a varying scope of decision-making rights. City districts must have less discretionary power in areas that are important from the point of view of the whole city or in socially sensitive areas.

The current city management model is clearly administratively centralised: the city district is solely headed by the city district manager, a political appointee of the City Government (i.e. appointed for the term of office of the City Council) and the district administrative council, established as a representation of the citizens, acts but in an advisory capacity. The role of the administrative council in city district management has to become more important and political decisions at the city district level must be taken by the administrative council, i.e. democratic decentralisation has to be introduced.

City management, let alone capital city management cannot be expedient if only issues of a few odd areas are addressed. Integrated solutions are needed—integrated solutions dealing, in addition to decentralisation of city management, also with issues concerning the relations between the capital city and the central government, and the regional co-operation of the city with its hinterland.

Full article in Estonian