Today the Ministry of Finance published one of the most comprehensive reports on the “State of the Municipalities” – some will call this report one of the most damming exports because it clearly exposes the significant weaknesses of the present municipal system, as well as the political imperative to at last make some decisions to reform the outdated system that is not only creaking at the seams but falling o pieces.
Do we really need a 335-page report to tell us what we already know?
We already know that over half of all municipalities are too small to be able to offer their residents the basic services they are by law require to deliver without grants from central government, aand their situation is not getting better.
We already know that when the number of residents falls costs cannot be reduced in a linear fashion because the basic services need to be kept by law… and costs of care increase as the pensioners get older.
We already know that the last four governments have tried but failed to get municipalities to merge in a voluntary manner.
We are told by the present Municipal Minister, Ms. Paatero, in her speech upon accepting this report that many municipalities are having serious difficulties in fulfilling their legal obligations in delivering basic services to residents, like healthcare and care of the elderly.
We already know that municipal decision makers refuse to allow the government to reduce the number of municipalities by force as has been performed in Denmark and Sweden. Both countries have almost the same three tiers of government and similar welfare systems.
Both countries have recognised the impossibility of having tiny municipalities as Finland still has – costs and responsibilities can only be managed if municipalities are big enough to carry the burden of delivering basic services.
The Finnish government still has a written policy saying: “The government will support voluntary mergers of municipalities”. In their present situation this is an abrogation of public duty when it is clear from the above comments that many municipalities are unable to fulfil their legal duties to residents.
Keeping such a large number of weak public bodies alive is a fight that taxpayers can only lose. Discussions are going on too long when we need decisions to merge municipalities into larger ones as has been successfully executed in the other Nordic countries.