Corruption lingers in local governments

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Mati Ombler.

PHOTO: Liis Treimann

Head of the Corruption Crime Bureau of the Central Criminal Police Mati Ombler believes local governments in Estonia have not paid enough attention to correct and transparent administration.

Ombler’s words are confirmed by a row of corruption cases tied to city and rural municipality officials. For example, it turned out last Wednesday that there are new suspicions against long-time head of the Tartu rural municipality Aivar Soob, who was convicted of a corruption offense only a few days prior. The first week of November also brought news from Viljandi county, where former Kõpu rural municipality mayor Tõnu Kiviloo was sent to jail for corruption offenses.

Have Estonian rural municipality and city governments become better aware of the dangers of corruption lately?

Unfortunately, things seem to be pretty much where they’ve been for these past years. We cannot talk of notable decline. Local governments do not seem to react strongly enough to criminal proceedings that concern themselves or neighbors.

Political culture has hardly changed, which is why we are left with the conclusion that rural municipality and city governments cannot assess corruption risks. Local governments are not paying enough attention to raising awareness among their staff, so people would know how to do their job right.

Herein lies the main question: why are there no efforts to make sure employees would know to avoid problematic decisions? It would be extremely important and necessary.

Whose outstanding work is it?

Everything starts with local government heads. The situation would improve if rural municipality and city mayors would highlight the problem more.

It is clear development takes time and positive change is not created overnight; however, people need to be taught that there is zero tolerance for corruption on all levels and private interests must always be checked at the door when making use of public resources.

As long as local government heads are not saying it, we will keep seeing these errors.

What about statistics? How many local government heads have found themselves in the police’s sphere of interest in recent years?

Suspicions or charges were brought against 17 local government leaders in 2012-2016.

The idea that heads of local governments should take political responsibility and resign as soon as suspicions surface seems to be taking hold in Estonia. What is the reality?

In most cases, people wait for the ruling. Leaders seldom resign in the early stages of proceedings.

It is understandable in that corruption investigations tend to take a long time. It took 18 months to go from suspicions to charges in the case of Aivar Soob. Former Tartu mayor Kajar Lember was suspected last spring and still hasn’t been charged. Why does it take so long?

Solving economic and corruption crime is time-consuming everywhere in the world. It is largely inevitable as we are usually dealing with complicated cases that concern a lot of people and documents.

Another characteristic of economic crimes is that they tend to lead to new cases. These must also be addressed, and the investigation drags on. I believe proceedings are as swift as they can be in Estonia.

After all, it is also the goal of law enforcement to conclude cases as quickly as possible. I cannot see how we could work any faster.

How often are charges followed by a conviction?

Almost everything the prosecution has taken to court has resulted in a conviction.

We have only seen a single acquittal after 2012. This means that proceedings have been of high quality and prosecutors and detectives have managed to cooperate successfully. Cases taken to court are those where there is sufficient evidence for a conviction.