Corruption-free local governments

Local governments are still a concern in Estonia in the field of corruption. This is evidenced by the fact that in 2020, 20% of registered corruption offenses occurred in local governments. In 2012-2018, 40% of all cases sent by the Central Criminal Police Corruption Crime Bureau to the Prosecutor’s Office were related to local governments.

Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much over the years, for the following reasons:

  • The level of local government resources is uneven across Estonia. Some municipalities feel that they are being asked too much, but there are no uniform guidelines on how to solve problems. As local governments are autonomous in their actions, the state does not say exactly what and how to do. For example, the establishment of an internal control system is mandatory, but it is up to each institution to decide exactly how to set it up. The capacity of local governments varies greatly due to their size, location and budget, which makes it difficult to hire a head of city office, rural municipality secretary or internal auditor who is knowledgeable about corruption. This again makes it difficult to disseminate uniform anti-corruption measures, let alone implement them.
  • Mistakes are still made out of ignorance. This is evidenced by the fact that only 8 of the local election platforms in Estonia in 2021 essentially wrote down anti-corruption activities. Unfortunately, even fewer municipalities wrote anti-corruption measures in coalition agreements. We know that there is a constant conflict of interest, especially in small places, which can, in the worst case, lead to corruption. When training on corruption is organised by the state to the officials, then council members are not trained in most local governments. Even if trainings are organised, they are not taken part in because they are not mandatory - and participation can only be made mandatory by the council itself. Insufficient control and supervision in local governments is added to the ignorance. It is no exception that the power is concentrated in the hands of one party for a long time, and in this situation it is difficult to change corrupt practices in any way. Unfortunately, there is also no pressure from the public and the press at the local level to help get rid of unethical behaviour, as it happens at the state level.
  • Not speaking up about misconduct is inherent in small places. According to the self-assessment questionnaire, only one third of the municipalities have mechanisms for reporting misconduct. It is to be feared that, even if measures are in place, people are afraid to report misconduct because it is more difficult to remain confidential in a small community. Disclosure through local media may also not have the desired effect. Thanks to the Whistleblower Protection Act, this will soon change, but only about half of the municipalities will be liable for setting up reporting mechanisms. It is important that, regardless of the existence of the whistleblowing reporting mechanism, the employee has the opportunity to turn to the supervisory authority and law enforcement, in which case the whistleblower is still protected by the law.

It is important for TI Estonia to provide local governments with the tools they need to build their own anti-corruption capacity. For example:

  • With the support of the Ministry of Justice, we created an environment for self-assessment of corruption risks, to which every local government has access. By filling in the questionnaire, it is possible to map the risks at the council or government level and to create appropriate mitigation measures based on the risks.
  • We put together recommendations on how to prevent corruption risks, especially at the council level. The recommendations were created before the local elections in 2021, but are generally valid for all local governments.
  • At the invitation of local governments, we conduct trainings and workshops for both officials and elected representatives on the prevention and risks of corruption. Read more about the trainings here.