Fate of internal security academy hanging by a thread

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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Photo: Heiko Kruusi / Õhtuleht

A special political committee is set to convene tonight to decide the extent of moving the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences to Narva. That tensions are running high is reflected if only in the fact that two ministries' calculations concerning the cost of the move are €15 million apart and both have resorted to an arsenal of subtle arguments.

If there is anything Estonians readily agree on it is how much something costs. This rule does not apply, however, when it comes to the plan of moving the security sciences academy to the border town of Narva: the Ministry of Justice is accusing its counterpart in charge of matters of the interior of intentionally inflating expenses tied to the move, while the latter is convinced the justice ministry underestimates the cost of the project as well as its impact on security.

Calculations by the interior ministry suggest it would cost either €63 million or €36 million to construct the academy's new buildings in Narva, depending on whether the move would include cadets currently training in Paikuse in Pärnu County. Annual fixed costs would grow by €2.1-2.6 million in either case.

The cheapest compromise, at just over €2 million, would be to only construct the academy's training center in Narva.

Chancellor of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Lauri Lugna said that the finance ministry's forecast speaks of nominal salary advance of 5.5 percent by 2018. The ministry needs an additional €10 million in 2018 to make sure salaries of police officers and rescuers would keep up with the cost of living. Investments of several million euros are immediately required for police IT infrastructure and fleet. The list of expenses is long and has no room for major construction projects.

„Which is the smart decision: to place €35-70 million in a single building that needs a strict security regime as it houses confidential information and weapons, or to pay police officers at least the national average salary?“ Lugna asked rhetorically. „We say stop: a training center costing a few million euros is feasible.“

Cadets would need to be vetted

Another sign that reservations concerning the move of the academy are considerable is the fact the interior ministry has publicly voiced an argument that is usually not readily discussed: the academy would pose a security threat so close to the border.

That is the conclusion of analyses carried out in 2013-2014 in cooperation with the Estonian Internal Security Service. Information available to Postimees suggests the assessment is based on the following logic: the security sciences academy will be the alma mater of all future internal security executives, not to mention specialists. Moving the school to Narva would change the profile of entrants and require much more thorough background and regular checks.

Lugna has a proposal of his own: if the main argument of moving the academy away from Tallinn is regional policy effect, the state could instead provide financing for measures prescribed in the Ida-Viru development plan from 2014. „Some projects have been financed; however, I dare speculate most haven't,“ the chancellor said.

Rector of the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences Katri Raik agrees. She was head of the University of Tartu Narva College in 2009-2015. She said that while the circus now revolving around the academy's location matters to the people of Narva, the townsfolk would rather see the construction of a new swimming pool or other amenities to improve living conditions. These are things included in the development plan.

„Looking for solutions for Narva, there is the question of how much the academy would really change in the town. Would it serve the goal?“ Raik said.

She said there are several examples of similar initiatives having failed. Employees of the justice ministry's prisons department that was moved to Ida-Viru County still commute to work from elsewhere in Estonia, and their families haven't moved. „I definitely believe there will be such migration also concerning the academy,“ Raik added.

Raik is afraid that because the academy would not be an organic part of Narva, it could meet the fate of the University of Tartu Türi College. „They used to teach environmental subjects there. It was kept there for ten years, and it never found its footing – the professors commuted, students commuted, the laboratory base was weak, and everyone else was in Tartu,“ the rector described.

Whether the security academy will meet the same fate in Narva can be assessed a decade from now. „No one will remember how the decision was made then, while it is the board that will have to take responsibility. Whether myself or someone else,“ Raik said.

Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (IRL) is in favor of the move and believes the interior ministry's €63 million scenario to be an exaggeration as the plan only entails moving the Tallinn study complex.

Teachers should rotate more often, wherein an optimal teaching period would last up to five years. One possible tactic of facilitating this would be to introduce a rule that internal security field promotions would only be available to people who have taught at the academy. Unlike the interior ministry, its counterpart would not guarantee employees' housing but would instead hike the Ida-Viru salary component to 40 percent. This would allow the teaching staff to decide whether they want to rent, buy, or migrate.

The ministry's prisons department in Ida-Viru County reckons that under the aforementioned circumstances it would take €37 million to construct the academy building, student homes, and other infrastructure. The construction of a practice base in a situation where the school would continue operating in four different locations would cost approximately €30 million.

The Ministry of Justice believes the interior ministry's estimate is insensibly expensive. First of all because construction prices would not grow as quickly, as well as because the academy can make do with fewer buildings and premises.

Rector Katri Raik disagrees. „It is not an ordinary building. It has a shooting range, security zones. I can practically put my neck on the line for the estimate,“ she countered.

Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu said there is no sense in talking about moving something else to Ida-Viru County because the security deficit in the area is considerable, and the school would communicate a message of the state's presence.

Talk of the internal security budget not being able to facilitate the move makes Reinsalu smile: „That is something from the genre of Gothic humor. Talking about the cost, it is the same in Ida-Viru County and Tallinn.“

Let it be said in the interest of accuracy that the interior ministry believes it would be 25 percent cheaper to build the new complex in Tallinn as the capital already has suitable sporting facilities and student homes.

Reinsalu also does not believe the move would entail a security risk. „The fear that young people from elsewhere in Estonia will not go to the academy just because it lies 40 leagues due east, and that this will cause a risk of one-sided national make-up – that argument does not fly with me,“ the justice minister said. „Opposition from the bureaucracy to these kinds of changes is entirely logical. It is nothing new.“

Anvelt under pressure

The situation is probably most delicate for social democrat Minister of Internal Affairs Andres Anvelt. He has long been among the supporters of moving the academy east but is now in charge of the ministry and the school it operates, both of which have opposed the plan for years.

Anvelt agreed with his subordinates as recently as in January: the two more extensive move plans were found to be too expensive with only the plan of building a practice base for approximately 100 cadets deemed feasible.

The change that knocked the wind out of ministry officials happened last Tuesday when the board of the Social Democrat Party decided to settle for nothing less than the transfer of the entire academy in Tallinn. The decision was said to be unanimous, which means that Anvelt changed his mind during the roundtable meeting curated by party chairman Jevgeni Ossinovski.

Information available to Postimees suggests Anvelt has been bothered by ministers strongly in favor of the move proposing to him with his own money so to speak: the colossal costs of moving and developing the school would have been covered from the already stretched internal security budget. However, the idea would be worth considering in case of additional financing.

Anvelt told Postimees that he will defend the idea of moving the entire Tallinn unit of the school to Narva during Monday's special committee deliberation. He added, however, that he will not back down in terms of the academy maintaining the quality of training and the move not contributing to weakened internal security. The academy must have a considerable competitive advantage so that young people would be willing to study security sciences in Narva. What would that entail? Money, mostly.

„The moving of the academy can in no way happen at the expense of internal security investments,“ Anvelt said. „However, if we can find necessary additional finances with the coalition's support, the moving of the academy to Narva is feasible, and I will support it.“

This means that the political special committee will probably decide in favor of Reinsalu's scenario on Monday: there will not be a head-on collision. IRL will be in charge of the move, and the social democrats will agree. While majority coalition partner the Center Party has not yet voiced its decision, the party's Minister of State Administration Mihhail Korb said Center will keep the promise it made in the coalition agreement – to support the move of the school.

Should this be the case, the focus will move onto Minister of Finance Sven Sester (IRL) who will have to find the additional finances in a short time. Initial estimates by the interior ministry suggest the academy would be opened in Narva in 2021 and end up costing twice what it took to develop the academy of arts.