State budget cuts being discussed behind closed doors at cabinet level ahead of being made public is a reasonable practice, Finance Minister Mart Võrklaev (Reform) says.
The minister appeared on Tuesday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" to give a short interview with ERR's Johannes Tralla, which follows in its entirety.
Tralla: A cut in salaries for ministers and civil servants might undoubtedly send a popular message, but how much does it really save? Where should the proposed billion-euro cut come from within four years in any case?
Võrklaev: I have learned from this case that no austerity at all is a popular thing. In any case, all we save involves taking something from someone, and that' is never popular. However, the reality is that our budget is in a major deficit hole, and some decisions have to be made - both to save money and to then earn additional income.
We have made, and will continue to make, additional revenue decisions. My opinion is that it is also appropriate to make savings decisions in this area. Where will we get the two billion by 2027, if looking at where our deficit lies, and what point we should reach according to the budgetary regulations and basic legislation; that gap is so big. How do we cover it? What do we do with it? That is the challenge that lies ahead. And when we look at how difficult it is to make even those small savings, that big goal is going to be pretty challenging to hit.
Where are these cuts to come from in any case? I understand that the Social Democrat ministers (Lauri Läänemets – interior, Riina Sikkut – health, Madis Kallas – regional and rural affairs – ed.) say that they cannot make any cuts. So what do you do with these people?
These statements made today are surprising, since when we put the coalition together in the spring, the common consensus was that we would each head to our own ministry in the summer and start looing for these savings points. And I have to express my appreciation to the ministers, in fact; everyone has submitted these savings areas to date, some more so, some less.
The statement that some areas have seen nothing done is therefore not correct. Everyone has made an effort. But if we want to achieve greater savings, and for these savings to be at least comparable across the different ministries, everyone must chip in, so that when one person makes an effort, another also follows. I submitted an overview to the government of the extent to which individuals have done something, comparisons on certain areas, and from that point, I have also made my suggestions, as to who could possibly find even more [savings].Why is the document in which the ministers presented their proposals for cuts a classified one? Ultimately, you are in fact removing from society the opportunity to have any say in the cuts which affect them and which will be painful.
Actually, we will not be taking this opportunity away. The government cabinet materials that we are discussing are ones government members will see for the first time, in essence, as far as other ministries are concerned. It is true that we looked them over once in the summer, in Maarjamäe, but they have changed since them. The government must be able to work in a way that the ministers can see them, see these proposals from others, understand where we are heading, so that we get an idea and that they can have a say within the government, to decide together what we will do.
The public will then learn about the decisions. Why can't we see these suggestions?
The public will learn about it if we in the government have decided that we will now start dealing with them, then they will reach the National Assembly and then the decisions will come. In other words, this opportunity for debate still exists in any case. And we also see that regardless of whether there is an AK (for official use - ed.) mark on it or not, we are already discussing them here today. After all, they also come out somewhat from there. But I think it has been a reasonable practice that the cabinet must be able to discuss things among themselves and that the ministers would know them before the public do.
Has anyone in the Reform Party leadership suggested to Kaja Kallas that she might consider resigning?
I do not sit on the Reform Party board, and in any case the board has not met. In this light, probably no one would have said anything like that. I also can't answer whether someone directly said something like that to Kaja, as of it did, it might have happened one-on-one, as it were. So I don't have that knowledge to hand.
You don't perceive a danger that the issue of trust relating to the prime minister and the party leader is passed on to the issue of the credibility of the party as a whole?
Looking at this controversy, of course it has been most unfortunate, and the whole matter is problematic. So Kaja Kallas, our political party and myself are of the opinion that all and any trade with the aggressor nation, Russia, should cease.
This is actually relating to one of my budgetary saving points: To close the Koidula border crossing, so as to also contribute to restricting trade.
Kaja Kallas has confirmed that she continues to stand by these principles. Kaja Kallas has confirmed that she was not aware of the activities her husband's company had been engaged in. And I think that if a person is not aware and has not carried out these acts themselves, then it is also difficult for them to be expected to take responsibility for them.
As of today, she has said that she continues to have zero tolerance for such activities; that for her, this is a black and white case. She has condemned it, and she has apologized and explained things.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera'