Tallinn City Government approved anti-corruption strategy

The Tallinn City Government approved an anti-corruption strategy at its today’s session and tasked the working group for developing the Tallinn anti-corruption strategy with revising the current anti-corruption programme in view of the proposals included in the strategy.

In May last year the Mayor of Tallinn Taavi Aas set up a working group for drafting the Tallinn anti-corruption strategy and submitting it for review to the City Government. The working group was chaired by City Secretary Toomas Sepp. The financial crime prevention and investigation team from Sorainen Law Office was involved as an external advisor in the drafting process with notable team members being former Prosecutor General and barrister Norman Aas, former District Prosecutor and barrister Merika Nimmo, and a partner of the law office Carri Ginter.

Norman Aas commented on the drafting process saying that the City Government did not set any restrictions in terms of identifying the areas to be analysed or putting forward proposals. “However, over the first few weeks we learned that the anti-corruption measures already put in place in Tallinn did not feature any major shortcomings with regard to the applicable legislation, the required rules of procedure had been approved and internal controls were in place,” said Aas and noted that unfortunately it was not enough to ensure a corruption-free environment in Tallinn. “Even though the situation seems to have notably improved in recent years, people still continue to project our past problems into the present and find it hard to believe that there has been an actual change of attitude in city governance. Therefore, the broad expectation was that Tallinn should not limit its anti-corruption efforts to the bare statutory minimum.”

According to Norman Aas, the developers of the strategy focused on situations where an actual violation of the law is not clearly evident but where the private interests of officials or political parties could dominate over public interests. “Often these happen to be cases where publicly declared values are tested the most,” he admitted.
Mayor of Tallinn Taavi Aas said that the strategy did not contain any major surprises and fortunately there were no material shortcomings. “Tallinn and Estonia are part of the Nordic region where the level of corruption is relatively low. However, our general public - just like the citizens of other Nordic countries - is pretentious and critical towards public service,” added Aas. “So we must do our best and not limit our efforts to the bare statutory minimum. We should try to achieve the high standards that is characteristic of Finland and Scandinavia and not be guided by the East European framework we once embraced.”

The Mayor added that past scandals have often undermined confidence in municipal authorities and we should make consistent efforts to restore the public’s trust. Recommendations from the Sorainen Law Office have a significant impact on the existing anti-corruption programme. Revision and implementation of the operational programme will be entrusted to the city’s Internal Audit Service.
Notable changes provided for by the anti-corruption strategy include depoliticisation of the supervisory boards of municipally owned companies and foundations, and rendering the committees that appoint senior officials of the city apolitical. Persons convicted of official misconduct or abuse of powers whose sentence has not expired may not assume office in municipal authorities or legal entities controlled by the city.
Additional measures will be taken to ensure that municipal media is politically balanced and not used for election campaigning.

The need to retain the independence of smaller municipal agencies will be reviewed and, where practicable, they will be merged with other agencies or their functions will be transferred to municipal authorities. The authorities will continue to centralise citywide support functions in areas like property maintenance, financial management, IT, human resources and public procurement. The internal controls in Tallinn should be strengthened and developed in line with international standards on internal audits.
Further, the process and rules for awarding grants for non-profit activities will be renewed to ensure that all allowances from the municipal budget are in conformity with the legislation adopted by the city.

The strategy is based on thorough analysis which included focus group interviews with the city’s key officers, a survey across municipal agencies, and assessment of grants provided for non-profit activities and transactions involving municipal assets. The working group tabled a total of 37 specific proposals for revising and implementing anti-corruption measures in Tallinn.