Interior minister: We cannot cut the entire nation's budget to pieces

Lauri Läänemets (SDE).
Lauri Läänemets (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) says that he is not in favor of making budget cuts within his own administrative area, a position he says is shared by other Social Democrat (SDE) ministers.

While all ministers were supposed to have reported back with potential cuts within their own areas of responsibility, as per the Reform-SDE-Eesti 200 coalition agreement signed in April, this has not happened in all cases, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Tuesday.

However, the extent to which this is the case has not been made public, since finance ministers have marked the document containing the relevant table as classified, and for internal use only (confusingly this is also known as "AK" in Estonian – ed.).

Talking to AK, the news show, the interior minister said: "When considering how many additional tasks have accumulated, and the state our security and internal security is in, I, as the Minister of the Interior, now have the job of canceling these cuts instead."

"This is the personal position of both the Social Democrats and the Minister of the Interior. We cannot simply cut down the country completely," he went on.

Government ministers were in summer tasked with reviewing the expenses of their administrative areas, to reduce them by 2 percent, given the current conditions of economic recession and high inflation. 

While cuts are needed, Läänemets said he believes that the time of the "thin state" is over, and that reducing expenses significantly runs counter to gaining improved services.

Of other ministries, the Ministry of Social Affairs says it is making cuts primarily at the expense of personnel and administrative expenses, including large-scale layoffs at the Social Insurance Board (SKA).

Signe Riisalo (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) said that she "wa not going to publish these amounts, as first of all, there is still time until September 8 to look for any more proposals and additional cuts. It would be a bit premature to announce these amounts now," she added.

Over at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) said finding savings would be a challenge.

Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The ministry's budget was just over €100 million, out of €15 billion for the entire state budget, he noted.

Tsahkna said that no embassy closures would be in the offing, "because Estonia's representation around the world is, even for a small country, already relatively modest, yet we do our job effectively"

Management and personnel costs and bureaucracy side would be scrutinized more closely, he said.

Finance Minister Võrklaev also proposed freezing the salaries of ministers and other senior civil servants, which Tsahkna agreed was the right thing to do even as it would save only €50-60 million, in sending an important message.

Mart Võrklaev (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Tsahkna said: "The salary rally in the public sector must stop. Essentially, salary funds must be frozen, senior public officials must also be subject to this. The government certainly cannot do anything about the salaries of MPs, in the same way we cannot predict what the president's salary will be. But, in reality, starting from the ministers and all the senior civil servants and moving on down from there, I think they should all take into account that salary increases are not a self-evident norm."

Ultimately, while the coalition agreement saw the three political parties that form up government, ie. Reform, SDE and Eesti 200, took on the task of cutting the state apparatus and conducting a thorough revision of the state budget, not all ministers have submitted cutback plans in respect of their administrative area to the Minister of Finance as of now, but who and how much and to what extent has not been made public, thanks to the "internal use" stamp put in place by officials at the Ministry of Finance.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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