State Audit Office: land improvement systems should not be let go to waste

Toomas Mattson | 4/21/2005 | 12:00 AM

Text size: [-A] [+A]

Language: EST | RUS | ENG


TALLINN, 21 April 2005 - The State Audit Office (SAO) warns that unless the government takes prompt action to ensure the maintenance of land improvement systems, half of the agricultural land under cultivation in Estonia might be rendered unfit for cultivation in 25-30 years, under the worst case scenario. The government has no comprehensive overview today of the condition of land improvement facilities, or a scheme for fixing the order of the maintenance and restoration works on these facilities.

Since the restoration of Estonia’s independence the government has only once provided financial assistance for the maintenance of amelioration systems - EEK 15.7 million in 2003. No allocations were made in 2004, and in 2005 the Ministry of Agriculture has foreseen EEK 9 million for this purpose.

726,748 hectares of 1.12 million hectares of arable land in Estonia have been drained. The Estonian National Development Plan 2004-2006, endorsed by the Government of the Republic, reads that “… 70 percent of the drainage systems were built over 20 years ago. Land improvement systems become outdated (fully depreciated) after 25-30 years. /---/ Decline in agricultural production and shortage of investments in the sector reduces the proportion of lands with good and satisfactory drainage by approximately 3-4 percent a year. In terms of agricultural land, we are facing a situation where well-drained cropland may go to waste on idle areas in 6 to 10 years and all drained lands may go out of agricultural use in 25-30 years”.

Well-functioning amelioration systems would enable to reduce exposure of agricultural producers to excessive moisture in rainy years and hence cut the government expenditures on partial compensation for the loss of crops (e.g. in 1998 EEK 227 million was paid to agricultural producers in compensation for crop failure).

Hence, it would be reasonable to manage and maintain the existing amelioration systems instead of letting them go to waste and spending hundreds of millions or even billions of kroons on their restoration. The maintenance obligation has been laid on landowners (amelioration systems are located on both state and private lands) and on persons using the land improvement systems owned by other persons.

In 2003, an estimated 10 percent of all land improvement facilities were managed with the assistance from the government, the bordering of managed areas on idle areas diminished the potential effect arising from maintenance/management activities.

The SAO does not consider it normal that the government, although channelling remarkable funds for the renovation of land improvement systems (EEK 130 million was spent thereon in the second half of the 1990s, in 2005-2006 EEK 160 million has been designated for this purpose), is unable to ensure the proper maintenance of the functioning facilities.

The Government has no overview of the scope of maintenance work performed by landowners and land users for their own money. According to the specialists of the Ministry of Agriculture and the land improvement bureaus, the routine maintenance of most land improvement systems has remained largely unaccomplished, and in order to ensure the regular functioning of these systems, basic maintenance practices are insufficient, instead it necessitates the incurrence of much greater expenses.

The government has paid and will pay probably also in 2005 grants to those applying, without giving any specific government directions for the preservation and development of amelioration systems.

It was noted in the course of audit that in 2003 assistance was provided for the maintenance of systems on lands that were not used as profit yielding land or about which it was evident that maintenance alone cannot substantially improve their condition. Such assistance did not accord with the aims of land management as provided in the Land Improvement Act – to preserve and enhance the production value of profit yielding land and residential land; any such use of resources cannot be regarded as efficient and effective. Expenses incurred for the performance of agricultural engineering works were also reimbursed, although agricultural engineering cannot be treated as the maintenance of land improvement facilities.

The methods used for grant approval by the Agricultural Registers and Information Board who administers the land improvement grants, and the control procedures used by the said Board and the land improvement bureaus ensured that grants were paid to persons who actually maintained the land improvement systems and payments were made according to the rates established by the Minister of Agriculture. However, the SAO cannot confirm that all applicants were treated equally – some of them were allowed extra time for the completion of procedures required for application, but not every applicant was notified of such possibility.

Some of the employees of the land improvement bureaus who evaluated and approved of the work schemes submitted in the process of applying for assistance and who also monitored the accomplishment of such works, belonged to the Boards of the land improvement associations applying for grants, in this way violating the requirement of the civil service code of ethics that an official should avoid situations, even seeming situations, which might throw doubt on his/her impartiality and objectivity in handling issues.

The Minister of Agriculture, in her reply to the SAO, concurred with the underlying idea of the draft report that the maintenance of land improvement facilities in the state as a whole is below the required level. The Ministry will take into account most of the SAO proposals about land improvement grants in its future activity.

In her reply, the Minister raised the issue of how the maintenance of land improvement facilities located on agricultural land in government possession is to be carried out. In respect of this land, the rights and responsibilities of the manager of state assets are executed by County Governments, however, the land improvement facilities located on these lands are recorded on the balance sheet of the Ministry of Agriculture. The County Governments do not command funds for the maintenance of those facilities. The Ministry has notified the Government of the Republic of the above issues and their possible solutions, however, no decisions have been made so far.

The Ministry of Agriculture intends to transfer the administration of the land improvement facilities located on the lands in government ownership to County Governments, but this is not a solution in itself. In the opinion of the SAO, the Government of the Republic should decide who in particular and on the account of which funds should arrange for the maintenance of land improvement systems on the lands in government ownership.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900
E-mail: [email protected]

  • Posted: 4/21/2005 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/22/2015 9:30 AM
  • Last Review: 9/22/2015 9:30 AM

More News