Secretary general’s lavish style irritates the ministry

Näide Ivika Luiski õlimaalidest.

PHOTO: Repro

In early May, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas uploaded to his social media account photos of Education and Research Minister Mailis Reps attending the cabinet session with her recently-born sixth child.

Reps returned to her post soon after giving birth. Her ministry also celebrated one of her most beautiful moments of life. It was originally intended to present her a teddy bear and a congratulations card, but at the last moment and at the request of the ministry’s secretary general Tea Varrak, a 1,800 euro oil painting by Ivika Luisk was included among the presents.

Since the painting was paid for by the ministry, the bill bears Varrak’s signature. “We are very proud of our minister”, the secretary general explained the expensive gift made for the taxpayer’s money.

This is only one example of Varrak’s style of management during her barely two months of office. Soon after taking over she began to address subjects, which due to the nature belong to the sphere of administration rather than the secretary general.

Tea Varrak.

PHOTO: Haridus- ja teadusministeerium

For example, a large number of potted plants, favorites of the secretary general, have been purchases for all ministry buildings. This is confirmed by the letters of commitment in the Ministry of Education and Research issued to the DIY and gardening chains of Hansaplant, Bauhof and Mileedi. According to Postimees, the top manager of the ministry – Varrak herself – selected the flowers during these shopping tours.

The ministry buildings have also been provided with new design clothes hangers, toilet brushes, waste-paper bins, carpets and other items. The initiator of their procurement was, again, the secretary general.

In Varrak’s words, she is responsible for making the entire building friendlier and for creating a modern working environment. “Attention has been paid to all inadequacies discovered and will be paid in the future as well. We have to tidy up our headquarters in Tartu, which is under heritage protection, as far as our funding allows, and the staff must have comfortable working environment,” she said.

Varrak described her love for design and flowers to Eesti Päevaleht in 2013. She said that she likes to have a lot of flowers and works of art in her office. The article also remarked that she had been involved in designing her previous four offices.

This kind of micro-management would not deserve any attention if there wasn’t a state reform going on, which requires the ministry to single out the posts in its department, which could be transferred out of Tallinn, while a large part of the ministry is being moved back to the capital.

According to latest plans the Estonian Youth Work Centre, the office of the Archimedes Foundation and the Estonian Research Council will be removed from Tallinn as well as some posts in other foundations allowing for remote working. On the other hand, several ministry departments’ worth of people are moved back to Tallinn from Tartu. Departments are also moved around between buildings in Tartu.

In order to carry out the changes, Varrak took along from her previous post in the Tallinn University of Technology the personnel manager Mare Pihel. The personnel department is based in Tartu, but Pihel’s main work place will be in Tallinn. According to Varrak, Pihel will work in both cities as other ministry officials. The daily’s question, why does the ministry need a new personnel manager, went unanswered.

 The ministry officials learned about Pihel probably becoming the new personnel manager in a roundabout way. She was appointed to the committee dealing with the problems, which emerged in the Georg Ots Music School under Aarne Saluveer’s management. Pihel was not among the Ministry of Education and Research staff at that time not is she at present. According to Varrak, it was practical to include her in the committee, since as the personnel manager she would also address the issue of the School of Beaux Arts.

This kind of style has raised a number of questions among the ministry staff, which have so far received no satisfactory answers. The work atmosphere of the ministry has been described to Postimees in quite somber colors, since no one knows what is going to happen, as information remains at the management level. The addition of the new personnel manager does not increase optimism among the expectation of changes.

All that has resulted in the fact that the ministry staff has formed a trade union to protect their rights, only two months after the new secretary general took over.  The first trade union of Estonia’s ministries was formed last week and they are to meet with the secretary general today (June 7).

Varrak admits that the reorganizations have caused their share of confusion in the ministry just like all changes do.

“On the one hand this is natural, since all major changes concerning people’s life are sensitive matters. Direct responsibility for sharing information lies with the direct heads of the departments, the deputy secretaries general. Just as all decisions concerning the staff”, Varrak said.

“Whenever a new manager arrives, including a secretary general, it needs adjustment by the people in the house and the secretary general. This brief time has not been sufficient for us even to get acquainted”.

Varrak was unable to comment on the forming of the trade union, since she had not yet met the representatives. “I believe that the trade union can be a good partner for the ministry management in discussing problems as well as supporting the dissemination of information”, she said.