Local governments steamrollered by construction boom

Toomas Mattson | 3/23/2011 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 23 March 2011 - An audit conducted by the National Audit Office has shown that during the recent property boom, local governments – which represented some of the most extensive construction sites in Estonia – largely turned a blind eye to unlawful construction, taking no measures to impede it, and are now having to deal with the consequences, legitimising new buildings constructed without permission.

The National Audit Office selected a sample of new residential buildings in eight municipalities bordering the Cities of Tallinn and Tartu in regard to which no data was held in the Construction Register to determine whether they were erected lawfully and whether, in supervising their construction, the municipal governments in question fulfilled the obligations required of them by law.

As a result of the audit, the National Audit Office found that more than half of the buildings (48 of 85) were constructed without permission. The greatest numbers of such buildings were in Kiili, Rae, Tartu and Jõelähtme municipalities. Assessing the situation again six months later, it emerged that the local governments had only initiated proceedings to determine breaches in regard to a quarter of the buildings; in many cases they had not even made the effort to contact the owners. The most passive local government in this regard was Kiili municipality.

The National Audit Office found that competition for new taxpayers is more of a priority among local governments than the organisation of construction supervision. A number of cases emerged in which the municipality being audited registered an unlawfully constructed building as the place of residence of new residents of the municipality. As such, the municipality assumed the obligation to provide services to which local government residents are entitled to these new citizens, who had either built their home unlawfully or registered themselves as living in a building not fit for the purpose. Moreover, not one of the local governments audited had felt it necessary to order the demolition of any building constructed within its borders unlawfully; the majority are legalised retroactively.

At the same time, opportunities to use existing databases to relatively easily obtain an overview of construction activity and to implement supervision in regard to it have mostly gone unused.

The National Audit Office feels it necessary to stress that real benefit to local governments from the use of national databases in performing construction supervision cannot be forced upon them – they must want to obtain it themselves.

Airi Mikli, the Audit Director of the Local Government Audit Department of the National Audit Office, says that tasks appointed to local governments by law may not be carried out for a number of reasons without necessarily bringing about consequences for the local governments in question. “It’s unacceptable to the National Audit Office that the state is failing to act decisively in an area which has a significant impact on the environment and people’s safety simply because it’s not their hand on the tiller,” she explained. “It needs to decide whether the organisation of construction supervision really ought to be the exclusive task of local governments.”

The local governments audited agreed with the conclusions drawn by the National Audit Office and had begun to address the problems highlighted in the audit by increasing the numbers of officials dealing with construction issues and boosting their competence to do so.

As a result of the audit the National Audit Office highlighted the case of Saku municipality, for which there was a much better overview of the building activity going on within its borders than for the other audited areas and in which officials were busily engaged in dealing with the field of construction. Compared to the other local governments examined, Saku municipality exhibited the fewest cases of unlawful construction and the highest number of warnings and fines issued in regard to cases detected.

Although account should be kept of all buildings planned for construction and use in the Construction Register, which is administered by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the register is not fulfilling its objective and neither contains nor publishes information that is in line with reality. Since its inception the register has lacked information on a large number of older buildings, while in the case of newer data entered by local governments, nobody checks whether it is complete or accurate. By reviewing the basic data in the Construction Register on buildings within their borders and using the map applications created by the Land Board, local governments would be able to perform construction supervision much more effectively with very little effort.

The sample for the audit included five municipalities bordered by the City of Tallinn and three bordered by the City of Tartu which formed some of the busiest centres of construction in Estonia during the property boom of the second half of the 2000s. The municipalities selected were Saku, Rae, Harku, Jõelähtme, Kiili, Tartu, Ülenurme and Luunja.

The National Audit Office also examined matters related to unlawful construction and the supervision carried out by local governments in its 2007 audit entitled “Construction activity in coastal and shoreline areas”, in response to which the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications expressed its readiness to analyse the mechanisms of supervision outlined in the Building Act. However, the ministry has yet to implement any changes in this regard.

Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service
National Audit Office
Telephone: +372 640 0777
Mobile: +372 51 34 900
E-mail: [email protected]

  • Posted: 3/23/2011 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 11/10/2015 5:49 PM
  • Last Review: 11/10/2015 5:49 PM

The apartment house at Soinaste village, Ülenurme rural municipality was the biggest of the illegal buildings included in the audit sample of the National Audit Office of Estonia. Ülenurme rural municipality had not carried out any written supervision preceedings. It is also notable that the master plan of Ülenurme rural municipality does not stipulate what kind of buildings (apartment or detached houses) are allowed for that area.

National Audit Office

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