NISPAcee Annual Conference
I. Working Group on Local Government
Vytautas Magnus University
Territorial administrative reform of Lithuania and its setback: Specific position of suburban municipalities
Paper files are available only for conference participants, please
Abstract not available
The question of further development of suburban territories in Lithuania falls into broader problem of unfinished territorial administrative reform. In 2002, general number of municipalities expanded up to 60, and then the reform stopped.
Necessity of territorial reforms became evident already in early post-communism reasoning by two groups of arguments. One, quality of administration and public services (decision made closer to consumer is more effective), another, giving more legitimacy to local level (Illner, 1999). These arguments might be combined: providing services on the possible lowest level is more effective due to better respond to community needs; self-perception of community is enhanced by that (Goldsmith, 1997; Mazylis and co-authors, 2002).
When municipalities in neighboring CEE countries, typically, too small, in Lithuania they have above 50000 inhabitants in average. Thus, the task is to establish new well functioning municipalities (up to 100). Here, status of suburban territories is quite specific post-communist relict: so-called „band municipalities” surrounding big cities. Problems of institutional „ex-territoriality”, use of infrastructure objects by inhabitants of two municipalities, as well as city development problems typically occur. Government proposes, fragmenting „band territory” closer territories to the city.
The aim of this paper is, to analyze systemically perspectives of suburban territories within context of territorial administrative reform evaluating appropriateness of Government’ criteria, taking into account experience of recent reform, position of different actors involved as well as tendencies of public opinion. Main methods: opinion polls analysis followed by semi-structured interviews with state and municipal employees and politicians, and mass media content analysis.
Recent reform experiences are, from a point of view of suburban territories, rather limited: only one (mainly agriculture) “band” territory was amalgamated to date. Unified quantitative criteria for establishing new municipalities (general number of inhabitants of municipality and its center, distance between two centers in kilometers, indicator of financial capacity) do not become stimulus to continue territorial reform.
Media content analysis shows, arguments against amalgamation of suburban territories are lacking economic, political and administrative logics. However, with long drawn reform process, they can raise apathy, or resistance, among general public. When in first amalgamated territory arguments like (“city authorities will take less care of them”) were rather occasional (Mazylis, Povilaitis, 2002), now, in “preliminary unofficial” Governmental poll in 2007 they tend to dominate. Turnout in particular suburban territories were bigger compared with elections to the parliament or local council, with total unity of participants against “attribution to the city”. This seems to be result of long-term lobbying of “band municipalities” elites against amalgamation using opinion polls as a tool of political manipulations. It may have negative influence to long-term public attitudes towards local government (Swianiewicz, 2001) reinforcing perception of municipalities as units with only administering but not self-government purposes. At the moment, Mayors, local councils, Association of Local Authorities are united against any territorial reforms. For legitimacy of further reform, long-term program is recommended to be developed enabling flexible solution of fund allocation both between central government and municipalities as well as between latter and sub-municipal units as additional factor preventing further territorial divide.