Peterkop: Why should internal climate ministry correspondence be public?

Taimar Peterkop.
Taimar Peterkop. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The new Ministry of Climate is going to coordinate discussions between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. These discussions can currently be followed in public document registers, but this will no longer be the case. However, according to Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop, there is no reason for concern.

You said that merging ministries could reduce the number of so-called silo towers. Please give an example of siloing in government administration.

Today, the challenges we have to tackle involve multiple ministries. This way of organizing ministries, in which a subject is handled by a single ministry, dates back to Napoleonic times. Single-issue ministries are often unsuited to problem-solving today.

By regular restructuring, officials can move between several ministries, gain a more comprehensive understanding of how the country operates and get to know the people. They are better able to solve issues that require cooperation between different departments in this way.

Can you pinpoint to when this new period began? When did this need to restructure state operations first arise?

Already in 2011, the OECD pointed out that Estonia's state governance could be more flexible. I believe that we have been in these so-called new times, in which a more flexible form of government could be possible, for several decades now. Ministries and divisions have been consolidated and reorganized in the past; however, this has never been attempted on a larger scale.

Could you give an example of where cooperation is currently failing.

Bringing renewable energy to market, for instance, necessitates collaboration between various stakeholders. 10 years have passed since we were able to introduce new renewable energy capacity to the market. This shows that the current model of governance is ineffective at addressing these problems, and must restructure.

The second illustration is the Ministry of Regional Affairs. The minister for public administration at the ministry of finance was responsible for coordinating regional policy and local authorities, but inequality continued to grow and problems of peripheralization were not resolved. We have to modify our strategy and devote more time and resources to resolving this issue.

Wind farms are not built for an array of reasons, ranging from political opposition to corporate failure. How is it due to the lack of cooperation between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, that wind turbines are not being constructed?

Priority was already given by the previous administration to accelerating the process of bringing renewable energy to market. To accomplish this a number of laws had to be modified, but it was also proposed already years ago that the entire planning process be overhauled.

Multiple departments collaborated to draft these measures that are expected to speed up the processing of renewable energy permits by a factor of two, under the supervision of the Government Office. However, as the office is already stretched thin, it cannot function as the central coordinator for all of the affairs.

Some perceive balanced governance as a contest of ideologies. Political ideals and party platforms compete with one another on the one hand, and environmental protection and economic development interests compete on the other hand. Where they meet, in the middle, the best politics are born. What is flawed with this reasoning?

There is no flaw in this line of reasoning. We must weigh the various interests, discover a point at which a decision can be made, and then proceed. Now, is this choice made within or between ministries? If it is completed within a single ministry, there is promise for a quicker progression; there will be a decision reached.

If it is a decision between two ministries and there are ministers from different political parties, the process can become mired down, no decision is made and no progress is in sight.

But if we place the ideals of economic development and the environment in the same ministry and under the same management, is there not a danger that these ideals will become muddled?

There is no risk that I am aware of. Why should they muddle? Preparations are made in a way similar to how stakeholders are involved. The government's decision is solely at the ministerial level. Instead of two ministers, a single minister could very well be appointed. This so-called engagement and preparation approach, however, is comparable.

During the drafting process, we often see that the ministries of the environment and economic affairs do not agree on some matters. For instance, the Ministry of Environment calls on the Ministry of Economic Affairs' attention to the risks posed by the draft. How will this conversation develop now that we are discussing topics such as road construction and renewable energy infrastructure?

It is up to the climate ministry's leadership to determine how they will design these processes for themselves. However, it should go something like this: these diverse interests should be brought to the table at the level of the deputy secretaries in management, where they will be debated and a decision will be made.

For the time being, we have been able to join in this debate. All of these letters, approvals, and denials were logged in the draft information system. However, internal memos aren't even required to be recorded in the ministry's document register and if they do go there, there is often a row within ministries over who leaked them. Is it just me, or does it mean that the debate between different values and fields of expertise is vanishing within the climate ministry? That the debate disappears from the public eye?

No, it should not vanish. Government has to maintain its current inclusiveness and transparency.

The current form of inclusive governance will remain in place. And departmental memoranda will continue to be produced in the future; unless there is a legal basis for keeping them confidential, they must be made public.

If the Ministry of the Environment presently considers that a required draft for road construction is not environmentally sound, the information is made public as soon as possible via the drafting information system. Will this information be visible in the drafting information system if one department begins sending memoranda to another?

This kind of mutual agreement is also a thing of the past. Rather, the entire government must work together to achieve a common purpose. We are also planning to do away with this procedure as the next major step.

To replace the drafting information system, we are developing a new information system with the Ministry of Justice, which will focus on co-creation.

We will address all of this in an open and inclusive manner, rather than sending each other notes stating that we are not coordinating things.

This is a question of substantial importance, however.

Essentially, all of these issues must be reported publicly. In the draft's explanatory memorandum, the numerous arguments regarding how a decision is reached will be detailed. Participants will undoubtedly express their opinions. And these opinions must also be responded to.

I am not as well-informed as some Ministry of the Environment department chiefs. I don't see for myself how a suggestion made in another area might be damaging. Where will we find out what one side of the new extensive climate ministry thinks of the other's ambitions in the future?

But where can you find out now what the Transport Administration Department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications thinks about the Energy Department's intentions?

I can't. This is because, under the Public Information Act, ministerial internal correspondence is not considered public information. Their inclusion in the document register is avoided at all costs.

But why should they be there if they are merely concepts expressed during the course of work that have not yet been implemented? It is essential that you understand the actual outcome and the supporting arguments.

The draft and its explanatory memorandum reflect this thinking. Both the proposal and the explanatory memorandum emphasize these distinct aspects and they will continue to do so in the same way as they do currently.

The mad ruler test is a type of evaluation tool. It is a way of testing whether the system you are building is fit for purpose if it is used by someone who does not share your goals, or even if you think it is harmful; whether the system will keep you from making impulsive, rash decisions. Will a ministry of climate change, with environmental protection and a range of potentially environmentally damaging issues under one management, help to prevent such threats?

I believe that the overall structure of our government aids in avoiding these risks. First, there is the political system, or coalition governments, which assist in preventing them. There is also the institutional infrastructure. Administrative courts, the Chancellor of Justice, and the National Audit Office all prohibit a lunatic from making poor decisions.

Am I right in understanding that when the environment is under the same roof as other areas, it would depends very much on who the leader is and what their mindset is, whether they are more of a defender of every bird and squirrel or whether they are a visionary of such a big economic development engine?

If you read the government act, you will notice that we also do not have ministers with absolute power. Ministers' responsibilities are clearly defined. Furthermore, the sub-agencies are self-contained.

I will use an example from a few years back, when the minister of agriculture chose to replace the Food and Veterinary Agency (VTA) in determining which fish are acceptable to eat and which are not. Then our system started working and the minister was unable to make those decisions.

In a similar vein, we can now state that the mechanisms are in place. If a lunatic becomes overly active anywhere, the prime minister, or the administration, has its own set of rules for calling them to order. And, more broadly, we have these measures in place through the other balancing authorities to ensure that these things do not occur.

When can we say that the new ministries are running on full steam?

I believe the beginning of next year. However, there are many nuances and details. I believe that we will begin working immediately. The new ministers are already convening in a new format, but the meetings will become progressively active.

In military parlance, however, I think full operational capability will be achieved in the first half of next year. At that point, the rewiring will be complete, the information systems will have been adapted, and everything else will have been completed.

What should someone keep in mind throughout the transition if they approach a ministry or are waiting for a draft?

Our goal is to keep troubles at bay. But just putting the systems in place, analyzing how we work, and making the right judgments is something that needs to be thought through and implemented in a new way. There may be glitches since people are not used to working in this manner; they have been working in another manner for years. Things can then simply drag on. In a nutshell, designing this process might be time-consuming.

The typical government lasts fewer than two years. The next one will decide that a different focus is required, such as a Ministry of Industry rather than a Ministry of Climate. Is it reasonable to replace the apparatus with each change of government?

The OECD suggested this to us based on the practices of other countries. This can be seen in Sweden and Ireland, and the more often it is implemented, the simpler it becomes.

And even if there is a change in administration in a few years, I believe the most successful governments will be those that take office immediately after the election and implement the most ambitious policies. Then it may not make sense to divide it and start over in two years. But who knows, perhaps in two years, when the political will is present, it will be much simpler to implement these reforms, as we now know how to do so.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Kristina Kersa

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