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Digest: State reform should be expanded to include foundations as well

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Centre).
Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Centre). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Faced with a changing demographic and a shrinking labor force, yet with ever higher expectations towards its institutions, the Estonian state is still working on a state reform that has been more than 20 years coming, daily Postimees writes.

Estonia's ministers as well as an extended circle of high-ranking officials meet every Thursday to discuss pressing issues. Last week was no exception, and the agenda, once again, included state reform, specifically the government's action plan until 2023.

The goal of the state reform is to merge state authorities, relocate state jobs out of Tallinn and to other counties, and to improve the quality of public services (ERR News reported). Over the next four years, restructuring is planned in five fields: education; land, regional and planning; agriculture and food; environment; and transport, according to the Ministry of Finance.

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Centre) is planning to see currently 20 government agencies and ministry departments consolidated and reduced to just six. But this isn't the whole picture.

While the number of state officials has shrunk in recent years, and while this development is very welcome, a new development that has taken place elsewhere is worrying—namely, where not the government's own agencies are concerned, but the foundations that have been set up to take over some of the tasks of the former, Postimees writes (link in Estonian).

To some extent, the government's measures so far have been little more than window dressing, the paper writes, pointing to by now 18,000 staff working for various government-established foundations, which according to a report released by the National Audit Office over five years ago are following no clear principles in the way their work is arranged, especially where the distribution of tasks among government agencies on one hand and foundations on the other is concerned.

Various interest groups, among them a temporary think tank initiated by long-time state critic and reformer, Jüri Raidla, have long suggested that slashing government jobs en masse is the way to go, including a sweeping changeover from public to private services, including e.g. the selection of high-ranking officials by private headhunters rather than government-appointed committees.

Suggestions go even farther where the top echelons of government are concerned, e.g. proposing a reduction of government to a maximum of 10 ministers, and reducing the number of Riigikogu members by half. The line of argument most proposals and groups have in common is that Estonia's small size doesn't justify an overinflated administration, and that the state should reduce its payroll by the hundreds, if not by the thousands, to save money.

In the opinion of Postimees, it doesn't do to only look at authorities and government agencies, but the foundations that operate widely outside the constraints of regular government need to be included as well, which would necessarily lead to an assessment of the importance or, indeed, the necessity of a number of them—starting with Enterprise Estonia, which the paper thinks has outlived its usefulness in a time where the money supply out of the EU's structural funds is drying up, and that offers services that aren't within the purview of the state.

The recommendation, then, is that the government systematically revisit not only state agencies and ministry departments, but indeed any and all places where money is potentially squandered on services and activities that are either of no benefit to the state, or fall into an area of activity the state shouldn't be dealing with.

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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