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Natl Audit Office: Estonian police watchdog in danger of losing employees

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PHOTO: Arvo Meeks / Valgamaalane

According to the National Audit Office of Estonia, the merger of the Police Board, Border Guard Board and Citizenship and Migration Board has been effective, but its future could be jeopardized by a continued decrease in the number of employees.

The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the merger of the Police Board, Border Guard Board and Citizenship and Migration Board has been effective, the number of support officers has decreased considerably and the public service level indicators of the combined agency have remained the same or improved, it is written in an audit report published on Wednesday. However, the further decrease in staff numbers may have a significant impact on the capability of the Police and Border Guard Board, which is something that should be separately analyzed – if the present trends continue, the organization will have to cope with just two-thirds of its present staff.

In late 2015, the police watchdog had 1,000 fewer employees than in 2010 when the merged agency started operating. Should the current workforce trends at the organization continue, the average age of its employees and the number of employees who retire will increase significantly in the next 10 years. If the number of people who start working at the organization (after graduating from the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences) and who leave the board remains the same as the average in recent years, then the forecast number of employees who will retire alone means that the board will have 30 percent fewer employees by 2025 than it has now.

Contrary to plans, the biggest savings achieved in the police watchdog after the merger have come from labor costs, which in 2015 totaled 8 percent less than the total labor costs of the three merged agencies in 2008. This has been possible as a result of a significant reduction in the number of employees. The economic crisis of 2008 played a significant role in this, as it put efficiency and cost-cutting in the foreground. The share of support officers in the total staff of the organization has been reduced from 19 percent to 11 percent, but at the same time the labor costs of police officials, border guard officials and citizenship and migration officials declined. This was not the plan.

The merger was expected to result in savings on property expenses, acquisition of equipment and management. Money has also been saved in the organization by reducing property square meters per employee and via expenses of land vehicles.

The level of the public services of the organization assessed during the audit had remained the same or improved from 2009-2015. Eleven public services provided by the police watchdog were selected during the analyses and 33 indicators that characterize these services and for which reference data existed, were analyzed. Sixteen indicators remained unchanged from 2009-2015 whilst 17 improved. Therefore, the absence of consistent indicators made it impossible to assess the quality and impact of the organization's services as a whole, but the assessment was limited to single indicators that characterise services.

The increase in the use of technical and other aids has led to the biggest improvement in the earlier border guarding services, guarding the sea border and land border. The distance driven by the land vehicles used by police officers has increased by 27 percent in comparison with 2009, while the number of vehicles has decreased. The sea border guards have exchanged three old ships for a new one (the number of days at sea has increased). The number of working hours of small vessels has increased by 62 percent, although the number of the vessels has remained the same.

This is why the National Audit Office advises to first analyze what are the things that will not be done and the impact this will have on internal security in the broader sense if no additional funds are found for the implementation of the Internal Security Development Plan 2015-2020.

The National Audit Office also advises to guarantee the number of employees required for the performance of the functions of the Police and Border Guard Board by maintaining a sufficient number of trainees at the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences, encouraging people working elsewhere to join the organization and, most importantly, motivating younger people to stay in the police watchdog for longer. The National Audit Office advised the government to form an opinion on the desired level of the average wages at the organization and prepare specific actions for achieving the desired wage level.

The purpose of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of the management and implementation of the reforms at the Police and Border Guard Board, the impact of the reforms on the indicators characterising the quality of the organization's services and whether the reforms have created the premises of maintaining or improving the service level in the future.

The audit focused on the preparation of the organization's establishment and the subsequent period until 2015.

The Police and Border Guard Board is the largest state agency in Estonia, which has over 5,000 employees and whose activities concern all persons in Estonia.

The organization's budget in 2016 is 174.3 million euros which constitutes 1.97 percent of the state budget.

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