Ministry to merge agencies, PR bureau hired ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Ministry of Rural Affairs to merge agriculture and food safety agencies
Ministry of Rural Affairs to merge agriculture and food safety agencies Source: A scene from documentary "Seemnest seemneni" (dir. Katharina Stieffenhofer)

The Ministry of Finance has picked a PR agency using a tender that will put together and execute a communication strategy in the volume of €27,000 for merging the Agricultural Board and the Veterinary and Food Board that are both in the administrative area of the Ministry of Rural Affairs. The cabinet has not seen a single plan for the merger.

The man saddled the horse and raced off, leaving the horse looking after him, wondering what's the hurry. That is how one would describe how the Ministry of Rural Affairs is going about the process of merging two of its agencies and communicating the process.

The Ministry of Finance, in charge of the state reform purse strings, has signed a contract with PR agency Miltton JLP for a communication strategy and its execution in the process of merging the Agricultural Board and Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) in the administrative area of the Ministry of Rural Affairs, even though the plan has not yet been discussed by the cabinet.

The aim of merging the agencies remains unclear – no jobs will be moved to rural areas, and it is likely that layoffs will be minimal. What has been decided is the need to communicate these changes for €26,640. The communication strategy will cost €13,200 plus VAT and its execution €9,000 plus VAT. The ministry retains the right to order additional work in up to 10 percent of contract volume for €144 an hour.

This means that communication activities, from the strategy to its realization, will be handled by a private PR agency and not the ministry's PR department.

Aab: I have not seen the analysis yet

Minister of State Administration Jaak Aab (Centre Party), in charge of Estonia's state reform, told ERR that the reform's activity plan covers reorganization and moving of agencies in the administrative areas of the Ministry of Education and Research, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and Ministry of the Environment.

While the initial plan for merging the rural affairs ministry's agencies was drawn up before the state reform plan was put together, it has not been presented to the cabinet.

This means that Aab's meetings have been contained to people from ministries that are planning the reform, but because merging the two agencies is not strictly a part of the reform as no jobs will be moved to rural areas, he is not up to speed on the details; whether and how many positions will disappear, who will move where etc.

"I suppose they're still analyzing it, but I will see the figures once the topic makes it to the cabinet. However, it is not a typical campaign of taking jobs out of the capital," Aab adds, pointing out that the agency merger also has nothing to do with minister Mart Järvik's plan of reorganizing administration of different areas inside the ministry.

Aab later adds in a written reply that the government has decided on August 1 of this year that the Ministry of Rural Affairs must propose to the government the creation of a joint agency responsible for agriculture and food safety.

"Creating the joint agency is part of the state reform activity plan through which we want to offer higher-quality public services, avoid duplication of functions, contain red tape and government sector expenses," Aab listed.

The Ministry of Rural Affairs confirmed as much; the joint agency that is still without a name will legally operate in the recent premises of the Agricultural Board in Saku, while all employees of the new agency will remain in their current offices. Because the VTA is located in Tallinn, its employees will likely remain there.

ERR also asked the ministry how many jobs the merger will abolish but did not receive an answer. If all current employees are kept on and in recent premises, the aim of the reform is questionable.

Jaak Aab emphasized that activities are aimed at internal communication. He believes buying in the service is justified and said that he greenlit the tender as the minister in charge of the process.

Aab supported funding the process from the state reform's wallet – every ministry planning changes can apply for funds from there.

Ministry: A major change

Karolin Lillemäe from the Ministry of Rural Affairs explained that merging the boards is a major change for the organizations that requires professional communication.

"That is why skillful management of change and communication to support it are necessary to allow employees, partners and citizens who use our services to adjust to changes quickly and successfully and be involved. Strategic communication aimed at managing change is prioritized. We want the entire merger process to be transparent and as painless as possible for all stakeholders and target groups. While the strategy is procured from the private sector, the Ministry of Rural Affairs will be in charge and responsible for executing it," Lillemäe wrote.

The question of why couldn't the PR specialists of the ministry and its agencies handle the communication themselves went unanswered.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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