The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) could be facing job losses and cuts next year, according to a leaked internal communication. However, the interior ministry, responsible for the PPA, denies any such cuts are due. The ministry, via substitute spokesperson Martin Helme (EKRE), the current finance minister, also denies it plans to set up a rival "home defense reserve unit", tasked with crowd control, among other responsibilities.
According to news portal Delfi, the PPA's budget may be reduced by €6 million in 2020, which would lead to around 150 job losses. Additionally, the PPA would be required to make further cost savings in the coming years, totaling a far higher figure, exceeding €20 million.
The interior ministry is also asking administrative agencies to submit proposals by mid-August (i.e. around now) whereby they might reduce operating costs by 3 percent, Delfi continues.
According to PPA Director General Elmar Vaher, it will not be possible to make cuts of this magnitude without it affecting staff numbers.
"The first thing we will do is cancel or postpone as many investments as possible, but given the proportions of the cuts, this will be far from sufficient," Vaher said, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.
Vaher added that estimated cuts would mean a reduction of 150 postitions, with fewer than one hundred of these being actual redundancies.
Interior ministry rejects PPA chief claims
The interior ministry itself denies this requirement has been put to the PPA, however. The ministry told ERR Wednesday that it had simply announced in spring that it would be preparing to make savings cuts in the autumn, depending on the economic forecast at the time, and that all administrative agencies had been told to therefore come up with potential savings.
"...neither the PPA nor any other agency has actually been asked to reduce costs, but to reconsider its options. The real need and scope for austerity will come to light during the state budget debate in the autumn," said Karel Hanni, interior ministry spokesperson, who added that all ministries have been tasked with looking at potential austerity measures, which they had a relative amount of autonomy to do.
"The aim is to find cost savings primarily at the expense of future investments and other planned activities or services. Depending on the agency, the analyses may also concern job reorganization to some extent, but to a lesser extent job cuts are certainly not the goal," Hanni continued, adding that there was no cause for undue worry.
"As the government signaled in the spring that there might be a need for savings in the autumn, we are looking for these places well in advance. These are potential savings, not a set-in-stone cut-off plan," he noted.
The PPA's budget for 2019 is approximately €220 million, of which staff costs come to €130 million.
Martin Helme: PPA investments bread and butter, no rival defense organization planned
Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), who is substituting for his father, interior minister Mart Helme, while the latter is on vacation leave, told ERR that no PPA layoffs or pay cuts were imminent, reiterating the line that the required analysis was a logical follow-on from spring's announcements.
"Last spring, all ministries were informed that they had to be prepared to find savings. It was also made clear that this would not directly cost people in the pocket, ie. via wages [cuts]," Helme said.
Helme also accused the PPA chief of indulging in hyperbole.
"The budgeting process starts right away, and PPA chief Vaher has pulled the oldest stunt in the world, namely carrying out analysis and then this "turning up" on a piece of paper as if it is a fait accompli, creating the impression that if money is not available, or savings are needed, redundancies and pay cuts will follow," Helme continued.
"Prior to the elections, the PPA director himself had already received two salary raises, which is down to him," Helme continued, adding that Vaher was using his own subordinates as a human shield in budget negotiations, something which constituted blackmail, Helme said.
"As far as investments are concerned, contrary to what is being said in the media, the plan to rejuvenate all the PPA border points and its buildings over the next three or four years is a major consideration," Helme went on.
"However, it is even more outlandish to read in the media that the Ministry of the Interior is creating an internal defense reserve at the expense of police and rescuers, or that this internal defense reserve is a substitute for reintroducing border guards," Helme continued, referring to a report in daily Postimees that the ministry was planning a volunteer home defense reserve unit, costing around €20 million, which would be tasked with crowd control in situations where either the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) or the volunteer Defence League (Kaitseliit) were not available.
"Creating a separate border guard with its own structure and budget is a completely separate process from creating an internal defense reserve, and the information to this effect which has circulated in the media is simply not true," Helme added.
Remilitarisation of the Estonian border was a central Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) policy facet while it was in opposition, ahead of the March 3 general election and ensuing coalition talks. The border infrastructure is being constructed in an ongoing project inherited from the previous administration(s).
Editor: Andrew Whyte