The war in Ukraine has very rightly brought more focus on the problems of internal security, and we must move forward on solutions to these with vigor, writes former interior minister Kristian Jaani.
The Reform Party and Center Party ended somewhat unexpectedly last Friday afternoon, as a result of which the functions of the Minister of the Interior were transferred to the Minister of Defense.
Strength to Kalle Laanet (the defense minister and, now, the caretaker interior minister – ed.)! This has happened in the past, and it is my hope that the situation will be resolved quickly. Of course, under the leadership of a good secretary general, everything will go on as normal, while very important political decisions and directions are a reality. What is happening in the administrative area of the Ministry of the Interior must remain part of a broad national defense, both in word and in deed.
Looking back on the period in office, we were able to direct towards Stenbock House a good and constructive atmosphere, many times over. For example, one of the lasting memories is the strong cooperation with the Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet in order to unite the Navy and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) fleet and increase Estonia's security capability at sea.
Worthy things were done, from beginning to end. Or take the amendments to the Aliens Act, in which case we found a balance with [IT and foreign trade] minister Andres Sutt in resolving labor market bottlenecks, ensuring the necessary supervision.
This is how Estonian business should work, in a good spirit of cooperation. And without the support of the majority of the Riigikogu, nothing will come to pass. Of course, there were also disagreements, but where would that not happen. But some disagreements can lead to separation.
€150 million in a year-and-a-half
From the point of view of Estonia's internal security, the last year-and-a-half have been significant and there are many positives that we have been able to achieve, together with the team, in the field of internal security. In just one-and-a-half years alone, nearly €150 million has been allocated to the area of governance of the Ministry of the Interior.
Thanks to this, we have been able to raise our ambition in building the [eastern] border infrastructure, and bring the completion date closer to 2025, instead of the end of 2026. The first section, 23 kilometers in length, will be officially completed next week, a year earlier than scheduled. The basis of the security of the Estonian state is a strong border-line, one which is certainly better guarded now than ever before.
At the same time, country has acted very rapidly and decisively in recent months to enhance internal security and the protection of the populace, as evidenced by a funding injection of more than €90 million. We can talk about the first positive results of this as early as this month, since the Rescue Board has carried out a good job and shelters in four major cities will have been mapped as of Midsummer's Day. We are taking several good steps to smooth over the compromises made in the past.
People who regularly risk their lives for our daily safety need to be valued even more. Last year, thanks to additional money received from the state budget and reorganizations within internal security institutions, it was possible to increase the minimum wages of rescuers and police officers by almost 12 percent, and for rescue organizers in the alert center by more than six percent.
These people are always ready to help us in a critical situation, and we must therefore work hard to provide them with a more decent wage.
We must continue to make sure that these words don't remain empty and that the expected results follow: By 2025, the minimum wage for an employee of internal security will be 1.2 times the average salary in Estonia. Of course, the task of making savings will remain the fly in the ointment, where the original sum could be reduced through competition, but the task of saving will be on the desk until 2024 and remains a challenge.
Strategy and cooperation
Every step towards maintaining internal security is a positive one. For this reason, I am pleased that the Riigikogu succeeded in adopting the bill for the harmonization of specialized services, which created a common basis for the service regulations and social guarantees for police officers, rescuers, other special service providers, plus volunteers.
The ministers of social security, justice and finance are to be thanked for this cooperation as well. The long-awaited bill finally crossed the finish line thanks to the Riigikogu, which passed it. This success was based on the support of the Center Party Riigikogu group. Thank you!
Indeed, we have been able to make significant progress in this area over the past year-and-a-half. On the one hand, there has been constructive cooperation at the political level - in the Center party group, in the Riigikogu, within the government, but above all, within the team responsible for internal security.
The war in Ukraine has rightly brought more attention to internal security issues and needs to be vigorously pursued. At this difficult time, we need a smart and strategic approach and cross-sectoral cooperation. In this the minister also has an important role to play, as the carrying and also responsible role. Standing up for the security of the Estonian people must not be forgotten.
Kristian Jaani is former chief of the PPA's Northern Prefecture. He was interior minister of Estonia from January 2021 until the start of this month.
Editor: Andrew Whyte