Editorial: the police and budget of an ageing nation

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Photo: Facebook/Northamptonshire Police

For years, police and border guard have been under severe austerity. At some point homeland security may begin to go downhill, we are warned by Auditor General, police chief and a chancellor at interior ministry in Postimees today. Further belt tightening is out of the question. 

Meanwhile, the government is in heated talks about next four year state budget strategy. If we’d want to do all that is written in the domestic security development plan, extra €100m would be needed yearly. At the same time, interior ministry is obviously not the only one wanting and waiting for more money. Also, Estonia’s future is hanging on stuff like teachers’ wage rise, financing of science, roads improvement and whatnot, and with development plans for these we are also lagging way behind.  

Why? Six years back, statistician Mihkel Servinski wrote: «It may rather confidently be claimed that in the fifty years to come, Estonian economy will go thru several rises and declines, but if revolutionary events do not transpire in population policy, we will continually be having to seek the answer to how to cope with a shrinking workforce.»

It is largely due to the ageing of the population that each passing year we are seeing a more forceful rise of social expenses. The new nice social programs promised by political parties at elections are adding dozens of millions of euros to the €3.5bn of social costs. Nothing could be binned, as if.

And so we are witnessing an increasing pile of problems and debates unavoidably (?) accompanying the thinning ranks of the working taxpayers. With each domain taken separately, the question is when cometh the point in the cuts from where it is basically going to get worse. Painting a picture: if an obese guy is no longer given too much food and he’s forced to get more exercise, his body gets fitter and things get better; but with too little food and overly much work, in a while he will die.    

The good news in the National Audit Office report on Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) was that despite the budget constraints and layoffs, the results have stayed the same or even improved. But to the government, the auditors are sounding a warning which says: the PPA budget, specifically speaking, can no longer be cut without significantly increasing risks. In this zero sum game, spending more on domestic security would mean that some other domain(s) get less of the money. Which of the ministries would volunteer to admit it is obese?

Avoiding the self-delusion including adjusting to shrinking and optimising state operations is needed beyond doubt. Even more than that, however, it must be asked: where are the forceful ideas and activities geared towards growth? Both for economy and for fertility.