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Indrek Kiisler: Will the spending never end?

Indrek Kiisler.
Indrek Kiisler. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Pensioners and families with children received €50 from the state this week, including those who absolutely do not need the money. Prosperous people should not be showered with taxpayer money, Indrek Kiisler writes.

Riigikogu parties seem to be in total agreement on at least one thing: no party has dared enter the elections campaign with proposals of rendering the government sector thinner, more transparent and cheaper. Cheaper, instead of more expensive! And find ways to cut public spending. It comes off as old-fashioned, with people pushing their noses in the air and muttering: nineties!

Instead, we are treated to money showers. Pensioners and families with children were simply paid €50 this week, simply because they are alive and with us. This included people who absolutely do not need the money.

School break airline passenger figures broke all previous records in October. Tens of thousands of people traveled to take in the sun and spent money abroad. And it is nice that people have money for traveling and entertainment. They are free to do what they want with their money.

But prosperous people do not need to be showered with taxpayer money. The [ruling] Reform Party did not find enough of a backbone to obstruct the recent round of squandering. They allowed the frankly embarrassing cash transfer to go ahead and scored another point for the March elections.

The public sector has been living in debt for some time, and looking at state budget strategy (RES) documents, we see promises to compensate for the increased borrowing of the next few years three or four years from now. This style of empty promises is repeated in RES tables year in, year out.

We are told that saving cannot start now, with fiscal balance pushed over the horizon from one year to the next. The difference between income and expenses is 3.9 percent for 2023. However, I cannot see political parties that have shared power in the last four years dialing back the budget in 2024-2025 because one can always find extraordinary circumstances to necessitate continued overspending.

The coronavirus crisis was one such. In 2020, the label of "ensuring food security" was used to allocate €200 for rural life and agriculture through the Rural Development Foundation, with a half-finished Kuressaare night club ending up among the main beneficiaries. The owner secured enough funding to allegedly pay off their debts.

No planned expense was canceled during the Covid crisis, the public sector borrowed profusely and mentioning austerity was taboo. As put by a member of the Riigikogu Finance Committee at the time: "It is tactless to count coppers in the conditions of an unprecedented viral outbreak!" Whereas tactful times do not seem to be on the horizon either.

In 2022, the reasons are the Ukraine war and refugees, soaring energy prices and the need to abruptly hike defense spending. We need not argue the necessity of these expenses, while everything has two sides. If a family has a sudden expense, other spending is inevitably dialed back. Replacing an expensive appliance necessitates saving elsewhere. This is a basic truth that nevertheless does not seem to apply on the state level.

I'm not proposing asceticism but rethinking taxpayer needs and expectations as costs are clearly too high. Should the state even perform all of these tasks? Which and how far? To what extent could people be responsible for their own coping in life?

Of course, Vladimir Putin's war places us in a different situation as several expenses become luxuries in wartime. Rather, it presents a good opportunity for taking inventory in fields where we have opened the taps too much. For example, will we be able to finish every grand cultural venue we have planned or would it be more sensible to bet on insulating apartment buildings?

There are thousands of such balance points all around us. Consideration needs to be tempered with the courage to make decisions and voice unpleasant truths.

But political parties and the public sector continue to function like an officers' night club near the front line where everyone borrows to have a good time as it might just happen that the debt will not be due in this world, and it's nice to forget having to go to the front the next day. And money continues to be spent on creating a false reality to allow us to forget, if only for a moment, that there is war out there, electricity is three times as expensive and the good life may never return.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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