No agreements have been made on how to re-route a grant obtained from the Norway and EEA program for a canceled youth engagement online platform. While Minister Minister of Education and Research Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200) scrapped the project back in August, the €275,000 in funding can be lost altogether, if an alternative is not found.
The original public project, overseen by state agency Education and Youth Board (HARNO) came under fire after critics said it was not an efficient use of the €275,000 grant, the bulk of which came from the Norway and EEA grants program (and was part of a larger overall grant).
While Minister Kallas put the brake on the project, Roger Tibar, head of HARNO's inclusion project, said that an already existing website getting a youth section instead was viable.
"Starting from August, various scenarios have been constantly gone through, while the undersecretaries and the minister have been kept up to date on what the viable scenarios will be if, for example, the project goals are not met, or what the expiry date for the implementation of activities is."
In August, officials were faced with a situation where the development, which was considered the central pillar of the more than €800,000-worth project, was no longer suitable.
Otherwise, more digital and inclusion-related training could have been organized with the remaining money, but in the conditions of the application round, it became clear that at least 50 percent of the money must instead be vectored to a new solution.
In terms of time, the matter is quite clear, ERR's radio news reports, as all expenses must be paid by the end of April next year. "And if by that time the goals set in the project have not been met, then one must be prepared for part or complete ineligibility for the costs incurred in the project," Tibar said.
HARNO and the ministry have been discussing this for two and a half months now. "Certainly in today's situation, developing something from scratch in the middle of October is exponentially more difficult than it was in August or September," Tibar added.
"An example of an idea could be to simply create a youth-friendly interface for some of the engagement environments that are currently in use in Estonia and communicate it in a way that suits them," offered Tibar.
Tibar stressed that this was but an idea, while Harno would submit a request to change the project, only when the final solution is agreed upon with the Ministry of Education and Research.
However, even if it were possible to spend €275,000 on a new website as planned in the summer, this will not be enough to reach 50 percent of the project's budget of more than €800,000, a required target.
"It must also be taken into account that at the moment when this measure was under preparation there was a different political environment in Estonia, a different minister, and certainly other employees in the ministry who were preparing it," Tibar went on.
"Perhaps times have changed or the focus has changed, and this just needs to be taken into account on an ongoing basis," he added.
The announcement in July that the Education and Youth Board (Harno) was planning a €275,000 inclusion platform met with a favorable response at the time.
However, at the same time, politicians hinted that major cuts were coming, and soon.
A few weeks later, the education minister announced that the public procurement, which had come under criticism, would be canceled.
"Undoubtedly, young people must be included in social discussions, but this is not done by a website, but by giving rights to young people," the minister said in a press release at the time.
Preparations for the application round "Smart solutions in youth work", based on funds from Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein began as early as 2020.
In the spring of the following year, when introducing the rules of the application round, Gerttu Aavik, project manager at the ministry, said that a solution was needed whereby young people could make suggestions and give feedback, in the interests of moving Estonian life forward.
Following the competitive process, €1.7 million was divided equally between the two projects, the HARNO project, and another cyber defense project, based on a private initiative.
As reported by ERR News, the plan, with the site set to go live next April, was to host proposals from young people, which would then be evaluated by young people themselves, with a view to the most popular projects being realized.
Kristina Kallas had also said that while the HARNO project may well need re-purposing, revising the external funding issue was outside of her remit as minister.
The 2024 state budget process which began in late summer made the need to find savings across all ministries a watchword.
Beyond the financing issue, critics of the youth site had noted that it did not seem to differentiate between young people aged, for instance, six, and those in their late teens or early 20s.
The misuse of tech as a perceived panacea but without the necessary pre-planning and thinking through how it would exactly be used was also an issue.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: ERR Radio News