Sunday talk shows concentrated on economic growth and new Covid variant

Anvar Samost and Huko Aaspõllu.
Anvar Samost and Huko Aaspõllu. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Sunday political talk shows on ERR radio channels discussed rapid economic growth and salary advance, as well as the state of the pandemic in Estonia in light of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Indrek Lepik and Hindrek Riikoja said on the Raadio 2 "Olukorrast riigis" show that salary advance tends to reach employees who already make a high wage. Because surveys suggest most executives plan to hike salaries next year, Riikoja encouraged people to ask for a raise.

Anvar Samost and Huko Aaspõllu said on their Vikerraadio show that rapid economic growth and solid tax receipt should make sorting out the state budget a breeze.

Riigikogu left out of the fiscal process

Samost and Aaspõllu lingered on the Riigikogu's level of involvement in the state budget process, finding that the switch to so-called activities-based budgeting has left MPs virtually with no role.

"No one really debates the state budget in the Riigikogu. This is the first time I have seen a large number of MPs admit on camera that they understand precious little in the state budget bill," Samost suggested.

While Aaspõllu remarked that MPs have not taken a detailed interest in the budget bill in the past, Samost countered by saying that delegates used to at least analyze parts of the budget that concerned or interested them.

"But it has become increasingly difficult and opaque in the last three or four years because we have an activities-based budget consisting of programs and indicators that have often been drawn up hurriedly, tables with peculiar side-notes," Samost described. "For two years in a row now, the budget has included serious errors that have been picked up by the National Audit Office only after the bill is passed before which it is approved by the government and the Riigikogu Finance Committee. Frankly, it all makes me a little uneasy!" he continued.

Aaspõllu agreed that while a lot of resources have been spent on switching to an activities-based state budget, no one is using it in said form. "Ministries and agencies still look at it from an expenses perspective that are then translated into activities, without any of it doing anyone any good," he found.

MPs involved in 'protection money' side of budget

"However, the level of detail and MPs' knowledge of one particular part of the state budget tends to be much greater – the €3 million that comes together as regional investments (or so-called Riigikogu protection money -ed.). Whereas roughly 25 percent reaches Tallinn that is the most successful local government in Estonia," Samost said. He described everything that has to do with protection money to be demeaning for MPs.

From there, Samost and Aaspõllu concluded that because not much depends on MPs and because their salaries are increasingly falling behind those of heads of major local governments, many capable politicians prefer to work in the latter.

Samost also asked what would have happened had an MP sought to hire an assistant using their €30,000 share of the protection money.

Aaspõllu said he believes the MP would have been criticized for creating a cushy position for a fellow party member, while assistants would improve the quality of MPs' work.

Omicron variant might bring change

Both shows concluded that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus could cause major social changes.

Indrek Lepik pointed out how the markets have already reacted painfully to the new strain. Countries have also set about laying down travel restrictions.

Riikoja suggested that an exaggerated reaction and confrontational demagogy can be seen once more. He believes the new variant will hit countries sporting a lower vaccination rate harder, with the Nordics likely to suffer less than the Baltics.

Samost and Aaspõllu found that Sunday statistics saw Estonia move from the high risk orange threat level to yellow that would call for measures to be relaxed.

Samost emphasized that the constitutionality and purposefulness of many coronavirus restrictions valid in Estonia has not been tested in court.

Aaspõllu said that the new variant will surely spread to Europe, with its effect on society being the relevant question. "In this light, I cannot see restrictions lifted even if we are in the yellow," he added.

His co-host said that watching governments ground flights and close borders in fear of the new strain is cause for pessimism.

Eesti Post offering a service instead of doing business

Lepik and Riikoja talked at length about national mail carrier Eesti Post's plan to close post offices in rural areas because keeping them open is unprofitable.

"I would like to tell [Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications] Taavi Aas that it is piggery. The state needs to offer services the private sector does not because they are not profitable," Riikoja said. He added that the state is obligated to ensure the mail delivery service, which is why the company needs to be state-owned. Mail services cutbacks would not save the state any serious money and the costs can be covered using money made elsewhere," he found.

Lepik gave as a similar example national airline Nordica that should be ferrying Estonians around but isn't. "Precisely! The state holds Nordica to be necessary, while it does not feel the same way about Eesti Post activities," Riikoja chimed in.

Lepik recalled that Estonia needs people to live in different places and that post offices are one way people can stay in touch with the state and the central government.

Other topics included the Supreme Court judgment regarding armed forces members' vaccination obligation, Kersti Kaljulaid's plans in politics, Eesti Päevaleht's influential Estonians chart and the plan to allow building closer to bodies of water.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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