Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) criticized Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Taavi Aas (Center) at a government press conference on Thursday for the decision to remove roadside toilets and trash containers as a way to make budget cuts.
Last week, the Transport Administration said it would have to make cuts worth more than €3.5 million next year and found that removing roadside toilet and trash container maintenance would be a viable option.
Aas responded to a question about the budget cuts and said people could use gas station toilets instead. "Estonia has a great gas station network, where it is possible to use the toilet and they are considerably more comfortable than the plastic portable toilets," the economic affairs minister said.
Aas said trashcans would likely not be removed everywhere, however. "This would be looked at more specifically, where they can be removed and where not. Trash containers will certainly stay at bus stops, parking areas will also be assessed critically. But this has more to do with larger containers, which have been at parking areas," the minister said, adding that the larger containers have become places where people bring dump their trash.
Prime minister: Such foolishness must be stopped
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) responded to Aas and said the minister should take another look at the budget.
"There is €472 million allocated to the transport area in the state budget, the budget will also grow 2 percent compared to last year. There is money in the sector. Now we look at the Transport Administration's budget - €356.6 million next year. Toilet maintenance costs €472,000 and trash maintenance costs €267,000. Is that a major cut in the €356 million?" Kallas said.
"I expect clear political leadership from the minister so that such foolishness would not take place, because there is money in the sector. The budget needs to be looked at very clearly. It is not like a cost-cutting task has been given and now there is nothing else to do but pick up the trashcans," the prime minister added.
Aas: Easier said than done
The economic affairs minister in turn responded to Kallas and said it is not that simple. "I understand it is easy to teach from the outside and say 'oh, you have the money'. Real life is unfortunately more complicated," Aas quipped.
"When it comes to increased budgets, I would remind you that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications was supposed to cut €6.8 million, of which the Transport Administration makes up €3.8 million," the economic affairs minister said.
Aas said there needs to be a distinction made about whether it is an investment budget. "The Transport Administration budget is mostly an investment budget. I am not too pleased with it all being an investment budget, but that is how it is in the state budget," the economic affairs minister said.
He added that since most of the administration's budget is made up of investments, the institution has had to make significant cuts. "That is how it unfortunately is accounting-wise. It is possible that it would be reasonable to change it, flexibility would be much better," Aas said.
The administration manages toilets in 61 parking lots across Estonia and trash containers in 63 parking lots. The cost for managing toilets is €472,000 and €267,000 on trash each year.
In addition to removing trash cans and toilets, the administration is also considering cutting back on ice roads, of which there are seven in Estonia. The Transport Administration will also cut back on business trips and trainings.
The administration will also lay off 18 people this year, five people are on paternal leave and their posts will not be filled or will move to different departments and positions.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste