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Auditor: Ministries' readiness to discharge national security tasks lacking

Janar Holm.
Janar Holm. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The National Audit Office has found serious deficiencies in most audited ministries' level of preparedness to discharge national security duties. The national auditor is especially critical of the Government Office.

The National Audit Office remarks that even though the Government Office should create an integral and full overview of different administrative areas' ability to perform national security functions, this has not been done. The Government Office has also failed to eliminate faults administrative areas have in common.

The auditors gauged the ability of the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Rural Affairs and Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications to perform 12 broad-based national defense tasks that support military national defense, are tied to internal security and the resilience of state agencies in crises. All except the Defense Ministry showed serious deficiencies in corresponding capacity.

Auditor general: Government Office only authority with an overview of plans

Estonia's Auditor General Janar Holm pointed out that since different ministries' national defense crisis plans are classified, the Government Office is the only institution with a complete overview of the sides' plans and the ability to coordinate. Even though the Government Office develops an overview of the common shortcomings of administrative areas in the course of putting together the defense activities plan, not enough attention has been paid to finding solutions.

Shortcomings were found in the level of awareness at different ministries, agencies and vital services providers in terms of how to prepare for national defense crises and how to conduct themselves in such crises. The Audit Office gives secrecy of planning as one reason, as those expected to prepare or be prepared do not know what is expected of them. "The Government Office and ministries need to find ways to give organizations in charge of performing national defense tasks enough classified information," the audit reads.

"Figuratively speaking, the Government Office must function as a conductor whose job it is to make sure the symphony is harmonious," Holm said. "The situation currently sees every participant show up with their own notes and unaware of what the others will be playing. The orchestra also has a number of vacant seats awaiting musicians who aren't even aware they need to show up and play because no one told them."

The Audit Office finds that organizations in charge of carrying out national defense tasks do not have enough relevant information. Therefore, a shared understanding of how to prepare for national defense crises and which crises to anticipate, as well as how to successfully perform duties in crises, is lacking. There are no rules for sharing classified information in a national defense crisis.

Government Office has not done enough to remedy shortcomings

The National Audit Office concludes that ministries have common and similar shortcomings that should be consistently solved. The activities of the Government Office as the body in charge of national defense coordination have not helped remove deficiencies to a sufficient degree. Furthermore, the government is not regularly given a complete overview of which tasks ministries can perform and where gaps in capacity are the most serious.

"Gaps in capacity need to be remedied by ministries that need to find the resources necessary for performing national defense tasks either from their own budgets or in the form of additional fund allocations. While requests for state budget funding have been made over the years, relevant financing has been underprioritized, insufficient and remained on the level of one-off decisions," the auditor notes.

Too much reliance on the Stockpiling Agency

The audit showed that the majority of government bodies do not have sufficient stocks to sustainably perform their tasks in a national defense crisis. Ministries rely too heavily on the stocks of the Estonian Stockpiling Agency but do not have information to which extent, from what moment and whether they could rely on these stocks in the event of a crisis. The task of the Agency is not to create stocks for state authorities to perform national defense tasks, but the stocks are created for the purpose of security of supply of the population pursuant to the Emergency Act.

Although the National Defense Act imposes an obligation on the authorities to have stocks, this obligation has not been clarified. The legislation does not specify how large these stocks should be and how long the authorities should be able to manage with their stocks. Only in the administrative area of the Ministry of Social Affairs a requirement established by a regulation of the minister for providers of vital services to ensure continuity of the vital services for 72 hours can be found.

Workforce reserve shortages evident

The National Audit Office finds that the need for national defense postings needs regular analysis. The number of posts and employment must correspond to the risk assessments and agreed scenarios. At the same time, the shortage of human reserves has emerged as a problem during crisis exercises. 

Among those audited, the Ministry of Defense has managed to address the issues concerning human resources. The Ministry of the Interior, which greatly relies on the substitution of personnel during a crisis, has also calculated the needs of human reserve.

Appointing and filling posts or employment with national defense work obligation is the only one way to ensure a sufficient number of people for authorities during a crisis, but if the created posts are not filled, we cannot be sure that the respective people will be ready to also perform their tasks during a crisis, the audit concludes.

The National Audit Office's recommendations

The National Audit Office recommends the state secretary to take a greater role in introducing the common and recurring national defense capability gaps of the areas of government to the Government of the Republic. For example, these shortcomings should be discussed in the government when approving the national defense development plan. The Government Office should also pay more attention to connections with national defense when processing other sectoral development plans.

The National Audit Office recommends the state secretary, in cooperation with ministries, to agree on common principles for the stockpiling of stocks for authorities. A common understanding should be reached in all areas of government as to for how long authorities should stockpile their usual stocks (e.g., food, water, fuel).

The National Audit Office recommends all ministers to analyse the need for posts or employment with national defence work obligation in the area of government and, based on this, appoint people for specific posts and employment. Due to the shortcomings in the areas of government of ministries, the National Audit Office also made several more specific recommendations to specific ministries on various topics.

Background

The purpose of the audit was to assess the preparedness of the state to act in the event of a national defense crisis and to determine whether different ministries have relevant plans and a sufficient number of people and material resources to perform the agreed tasks. The National Audit Office also assessed whether the coordination activities of the Government Office in preparing for a national defense crisis have provided a comprehensive overview of the ability of areas of government to perform national defense tasks and contributed to the elimination of more widely occurring shortcomings.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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