No government consensus yet on top officials wage freeze

Stenbock House: the seat of the Estonian government.
Stenbock House: the seat of the Estonian government. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Estonian government has discussed potentially freezing the wages of ministers and higher state servants, however no consensus has yet emerged on this issue.

Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) said that the government is not discussing cutting wages in the internal security sector.

"I can confirm on my part that the government has not discussed cutting wages, nor has the finance minister called for it, nor has it called for closing brigades down," Võrklaev said on Thursday. "We are in agreement on this in the cabinet as well."

Regarding the potential closure of Southeastern Estonia's Koidula border checkpoint, the minister said that in light of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) resource costs, he has proposed considering closing it, as it isn't reasonable to conduct trade via a border checkpoint.

"Maintaining a pedestrian crossing could be considered; that has also been discussed," he added.

Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE), meanwhile, said that the closure of the Koidula border checkpoint has not been decided.

"My own personal position as interior minister is that this border checkpoint cannot be closed," Läänemets said. "If we look at the stats, the movement of Estonian citizens across the border to the Russian side and back, then Estonian citizens crossed the border 81,000 times at Koidula and 21,500 times at Luhamaa, i.e. four times less."

The Koidula border checkpoint is located just a few kilometers outside of Petseri (Pechory), the historical capital of the Setomaa region which fell on the Russian side of the redrawn border in the 1990s. Läänemets noted that many of those crossing the border via the Koidula checkpoint are families that ended up split up by the new border — among them Estonian citizens by birth under jus sanguinis.

Commenting on Võrklaev's proposal to freeze ministers' and other higher state servants' wages, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that a proposal to this end has been made, but the [coalition] parties have differing opinions on the matter.

Kallas said that these wages shouldn't be completely frozen, but their

According to Kallas, these wages shouldn't be frozen, however, their angle of increase should be reduced.

Läänemets said that the principle of freezing salaries is correct, but he cannot agree with the content of this specific proposal.

"I don't think it's right that in the future, the prime minister of Estonia will earn the same salary in four years' time as MP Kalle Grünthal," he explained. "Then there's something wrong with this country, and this wage policy doesn't make sense. Another issue is that if a Riigikogu committee chair earns more than a minister, that will cause new problems."

According to Minister of Economic Affairs Tiit Riisalo (Eesti 200), common sense decisions are needed that take context into account.

He noted that they're talking about the wages of Estonia's top specialists, and these top [specialists] need to be paid decent wages so as not to lose them. This must be in sync, however, with what's going on more broadly.

"If private sector wage growth is clearly going to slow down in the coming years, then it's logical for the public sector, including top officials, to do the same," Riisalo acknowledged.

Võrklaev said that nothing should be taboo in the search for potential budget cuts.

"It's not going to happen here that the prime minister's salary ends up lower than MP salaries," he emphasized. "I think this is something that should be discussed openly in society without immediately calling it populism."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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