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State Secretary: If we end some public services, we can save more money

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

Giving up ministry souvenir supplies could save symbolic amounts, but eliminating some state services would save much more, State Secretary Taimar Peterkop told ERR's "Terevisioon." He also said that Christmas bonuses were not to be canceled and that each ministry could decide how to pay them.

The end of last week brought news that ministries and departments have been ordered to stop all gifts and souvenirs. Exactly what gifts or souvenirs are we talking about?

The choice of gifts is very wide. Probably the most common are cups, pens and key rings. And lately bags have become popular. We're mainly talking about things like that.

In other words, they can no longer be ordered by ministries or sub-ministries where money needs to be saved. How much money will be saved?

First of all, this has to be seen in a broader context. We have been talking about austerity for the last six months or a year. It has to be seen in this larger context – we are overburdened by running the state in this way. We need to invest in security and save where we can. This part of saving the gifts is very marginal in terms of saving, but it is important that we also show by our actions that we are saving.

So what are the savings?

This must be examined agency by agency. I can use the Riigikogu Chancellery as an example; we have a savings of roughly €20,000. It is not a large number. But we decided not to give any gifts back in the summer. But doing it alone is difficult. Some institutions have already chosen to discontinue offering presents, but it makes more sense to do it in such a way that everyone decides to quit up at the same time.

How much will the public sector save next year, in addition to the presents and souvenirs that must be avoided? How much money will ministries and departments have to save?

When the country's budget strategy was agreed upon, the order of magnitude was €40 million, €41 million the following year, and €350 million over four years, but it has not yet been precisely defined. There are still savings to be over the next four years.

When the finance minister told all the ministries to identify savings in their areas of responsibility in the summer, they returned from vacations and failed to find them. It has been said that saving money is impossible. How is this  communicated now? Who suggests to save money and how much?

Saving money was a political agreement when the current government formed.

Different ministers and ministries found found ways to save some amounts. Some were more remarkable than others, while some did not find many ways to cut. That is, however, where the €41 million for next year comes from. It was a political agreement reached by all ministers, not an order from the finance minister.

You really have to leave some things out. Gifts are a small example of this, but in reality you also have to close down certain state services – so that we just don't do certain things any more. Then we can save even more.

There are also news items from several ministries where one or more procurements are announced and a lot of money is spent. For example, the Ministry of Regional Development and Agriculture allocated €800,000 to create a new analytic tool. Has anyone investigated why this is being done now or why it is needed?

Yeah. Even the Chancellery has looked into it, because this money is flowing into the public sector innovation measure, which is euro money that is distributed by the Chancellery to stimulate public sector innovation.

Who should use it?

I can't recall what it says off the top of my head, so you'll have to look it up. However, agricultural corporations, farmers... If they have to make a green turn, they will need to understand that their actions have consequences.

We have to provide people with tools that allow them to measure what they are doing.

Is is best to spend €800,000 on making this tool to achieve our goals?

I am not an expert in this field. The experts studied it and concluded that it was reasonable. I can only rely on professionals because I don't understand how complicated this world is. I have faith in the professionals employed by the state for developing these things.

In reality, this is only one example. However, there are other examples of procurements that raise the question of whether we need to undertake all of this now, when we are so low on funds. Couldn't some things be pushed back?

I'd like to make a distinction between several topics  here. For example, when it comes to the use of Structural Funds, this should be done extremely actively. So that this euro money enters the Estonian market, so that Estonian enterprises that develop goods or services  with this money can create jobs, which benefits our economy.

That someone can get the money for developing a new tool?

Exactly. If you have an Estonian company and create this technology for other Estonian companies, it will eventually bring more money into the economy.

/.../

So, what is the government's message to ministries and departments in terms of cost-cutting?

It passes on continually, both as cabinet decisions and in public as ministers speak; ministers take the decisions of government discussions back to their respective ministries  and communicate through their departmental channels. As a result, the drive to save money percolates through every door and window. However, turning a large ship around can take some time.

Christmas is coming soon. Will Christmas bonuses be paid in ministries and agencies this year?

We have a decentralized system, so every institution decides for itself. But you have to pay for good work, if someone goes above and beyond, they should be paid. I don't think Estonia would have a 13th salary any time soon, but I cannot speak for all institutions here.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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