Reform MP and former finance minister Jürgen Ligi has hit out at current incumbent Martin Helme (EKRE), saying that Estonia effectively does not have a finance minister at present. Ligi, who was finance minister at the time of the recession starting in 2008, said that the current crisis was not the same thing. He did however praise some aspects of the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, including its utilization of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa) and Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa).
Ligi said that the most important component of the current package offered by the government in the wake of the virus' spread was the option of wage benefits via the Unemployment Insurance Fund, for those who have temporarily had to stay away from work.
"This will definitely be manipulated a bit, but this is a small problem compared with what happens when people run out of money and companies lose their vitality. Being in a good position at the time the restrictions disappear is a very important benefit," Ligi said, on ETV political discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday evening.
When asked what lessons should be learned from the previous crisis during his stint as finance minister, Ligi said that the most important thing is the government's sense of responsibility, plus targeted action; this was not in evidence at present, he said.
"I say we need a finance minister who really makes adequate decisions and justifies them. We need a prime minister who gives the right messages. I say they existed at the time [of the last recession]. There is [also] a prime minister now, but there is no finance minister. There is [instead] a 'minister of spending', who is trying to find as many interest groups as possible to attract," Ligi said, adding that he thought Martin Helme does not have a systemic view.
Martin Helme said on Thursday, the day the government presented its supplementary budget aimed at combating the economic effects of the pandemic, that the state does not intend to rein in costs, although the crisis has caused additional costs to the state.
In Ligi's view, recovery was not realistic without real cuts. The Andrus Ansip administration which Ligi was a part of was noted for its austerity measures in response to the downturn of over 10 years ago.
"[Helme's] mouth still has to be put in check. This categorical denial, this demonstrative denial /.../ is not very pretty. (He was) the first in the world to declare a major economic crisis and describe it in such a way that now everyone is starting to owe each other, now comes the horror story. There were no such restrictions in the world, there was no such pandemic, there was no justification for his spiel; it was already scary, it was already creating this type of a mood."
"It's the same with the budget. When there wasn't an idea about the budget yet, what to do with the money, he found a way for us to take out a loan just in case. That's not how it goes. But there were no ideas. There were only dogmas, some sort of budget balance stuff," Ligi went on.
Government has done right thing with healthcare sector
Ligi did, however, have some praise for the government's steps in supporting the health service in the wake of the pandemic.
"The state must be very strong in supporting the medical system, with various restrictions in order to halt the virus. In my opinion, this stage has been quite successful in Estonia. While today is a very black day, Estonia has reacted quickly," he said.
"The medical aspect, I think, has gone adequately and I liked the fact that – indeed I have praised the government for this – there have been no arbitrary and premature restrictions; 'just-in-case-restrictions' have been imposed," he added.
Ligi also acknowledged the decision by the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa) to pay sick pay on the first day of sick leave, and said it had been a good decision to involve KredEx, which can provide credit to companies in trouble, in stimulating the economy.
"KredEx is a bit slower, but it is really a responsible thing to bring money with state guarantees to the economy. This will take some time, but it is something that needs to be launched very quickly. It's already time, but it will take a few more weeks for the budget to would be adopted."
Editor: Andrew Whyte