Elections law allows bullying small communes

Kaisma matkarada.

PHOTO: Henn Soodla / Pärnu Postimees

Vändra commune opts not to fulfil merger agreement with Kaisma commune. The stronger may do as it pleases, with no punishment looming.

In 2009, Kaisma rural municipality of Pärnu County joined with that of Vändra. With mutual consent, a merger agreement was entered into, to protect rights of parties.

«Vändra commune council has the right, as arising from economic or political situations, to take differing decisions in issues agreed by the contract, with the exception of matters specified by Chapter 5 thereof,» says the merger contract.

Clause 5 states that electoral district must maintain three mandates. Even that is denied by Vändra. The official reason flaunted by Vändra being that this is against Elections Act.

No penalties prescribed by law

According to Ingrid Sillaste, the last chairman of Kaisma council, the agreement was aimed at securing, for a time, the right to have a say in a larger local government. Therefore, a corresponding agreement allowing for the presence of Kaisma deputies was entered into, dating until 2017. «In reality, all our conditions were trampled underfoot during the first elections period, already,» said she.

According to regional minister Siim Kiisler (IRL) the outcome is to be regretted. To his knowledge, this is a unique case.

«This is highly worrisome, discrediting the entire merging process and breeding insecurity,» said the minister.

The minister urges the Vändra powers to honour the agreement. However, there is no way the now extinct Kaisma commune could be ensured real help and contractual rights.

«We should elect people who keep their word, not those who do not. There are people in power who participated in preparing the agreement and who gave their word,» said Mr Kiisler, acknowledging the blind spot.

There is hardly any hope offered by upcoming local elections, as the area – once called Kaisma commune – has substantially less inhabitants that the larger Vändra.

«Small communities have few voters. There will be all kinds of problems in days to come, this has been handled very stupidly,» said Marko Pomerants (IRL), head of parliamentary legal committee. According to Mr Pomerants, it must now be considered whether or not an amendment like this is needed for next elections. «To violate one’s neighbour like this, in a small area... this is top stupid.»

Pursuant to current law, help is not in sight with problems like this. According to regional minister, merger contracts are not monitored by county governors, this being a local matter.

«There are no penalties prescribed by the law,» said Mr Kiisler, adding that in Riigikogu, the issue has been up for discussion on an abstract level.

Merger with Vändra not desired

As stated in the 2009 Vändra and Kaisma commune merger agreement, negotiations were also underway with Tootsi commune and Vändra town of Pärnu County and Järvakandi and Kehtna communes of Rapla County.

According to Tootsi rural municipality mayor Kalev Kaljuste he supports administrative reform and has attempted merger on four occasions. He claims local government mergers are obstructed by legal omissions.

«Local government council elections law prescribes minimum five seats to the merging community, in councils. Vändra council, however, has 15 seats. For them, this is too big of a percentage,» he said.

Still, the above problem concerns other areas of Estonia, rather. «I’ll tell you plainly: with these people in power in Vändra, one might as well forget mergers,» claimed Mr Kaljuste.

He acknowledged that, under current law, Tootsi commune would lack any assurance regarding its future. Amendments, however, would help.

«Surely that would help,» says Mr Kaljuste. According to him, the Kaisma incident has also vetoed mergers of Vändra town and Järvakandi commune with Vändra commune.

Vändra rural municipality is headed by mayor Peeter Reimann – unreachable in spite of repeated attempts. The man, in power ever since 1993, has earlier been accused of corruption for allegedly covering the expenses of his private car from county funds. In 2010, a motion of censure was filed against him. However, the support needed to topple the controversial mayor was not acquired. On that occasion, Mr Reimann was accused in violations of Public Procurement Act.