27 March, 2008

The Municipality Asset in Latvia

I read in the Opinion section of the Baltic Times last week the article titled 'Municipal Madness' where is was suggested that decreasing the amount municipalities in Latvia would somehow bring a mentality of efficiency to the leaders in Latvia. (432 rural municipalities in Latvia and there are calls to merge some to leave only about 100.)
This seems a bit like Latvia wishing to be a larger country if it could be. The old argument about economies of scale puts forward the message that large enables reduction in the cost of production causing less cost. But I would like to suggest that the time for big is coming to an end. Latvia is a small country and this is its advantage. Smaller is faster and more competitive. Would small areas of Latvia be better represented if they became homogenised in to a larger command?
The answer in this day and age is NO.
Controlling small diverse municipalities has never before been easier than it is now in this information age. Each small municipality represents a competitive sector of Latvia striving to attract resources through promoting its advantages. Having no people in an area is an advantage as is having lots of people - it just requires application to the correct industry segments for each area.
Sweden has 290 municipalities, Finland has 416 and Norway has 430. These countries are considered economically successful so having many municipalities does not exclude economic advancement. If the argument is that some of the municipalities are somehow rotten in need of assistance then dragging them together to create a larger administration could drown out the whole municipality with predominantly bad news and poor resources thus hampering startup businesses. Slower responsiveness from a larger municipality with more staffers to deal with that hide behind each other will certainly handicap start up businesses. Whereas businesses can perform across municipal borders once established.

I approached my own remote municipality of Valle and made requests to rezone my land. I received a positive and fast response and even delt directly with the Mayor. I concurrently deal with larger councils in two other areas of Latvia and they are more obstructive than helpful. What makes success is not driving costs down but focusing on generating income. Basically adopting an abundance way of thinking about Latvia than a pessimistic view.

One of the big causes of the problem for municipalities is a mentality in Latvia that 'Everyone Knows How to Find Us' and as a result there is not enough effort placed on attracting resources like customers. Regaining independence is not complete when every business and municipality behaves like it is hiding behind an Iron Curtain. 99% of all revenue generating units in Latvia can not be found by people that speak the major international Language - English. As a result there is a lot of cash in Europe that is not finding its way to Latvia.

When people can gain income through corruption, EU funds or by evading taxes there is not as high an incentive to be professional about what you represent. In the mean-time whilst Latvia sleeps many people outside of Latvia are winning the business and even taking key domain names to point people from Latvia to their own country.

Diverse and many Municipalities represent a bigger business opportunity for Latvia than if they were consolidated. They just need to be lead better so they know what and how to promote.

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