State reformers would cut number of officials in half

Tallinn. 29OCT18. Viljar Arakas otsesaates Otse Postimehest. Saatejuht Vilja Kiisler.

PHOTO: Erik Prozes

The State Reform Foundation would cut the number of public servants in half and leave the government with ten ministers. The prime minister would be given highest independent power and designated as the chief strategist. Proposals made public yesterday do not elaborate on what would happen to the office of the president and which ministerial positions to abolish.

The proposal to have fewer ministers is based on the conviction that Estonia currently has too many. Entrepreneurs who form the foundation would give the prime minister personal capacity: they should be the chief strategist of national development. The importance of clearly describing relationships of subordination between the prime minister and other ministers is emphasized, especially in emergency situations and regarding national defense. The state apparatus should also be complemented with a national strategy center in this light.

Member of the council of the State Reform Foundation Viljar Arakas told “Postimees Live” yesterday that while this chief strategist couldn’t be an enlightened monarch, the idea of the proposal is to achieve a more flexible system.

“I have attended a few meetings with ministry officials as a representative of a business organization. They are largely bouts between ministries where the enterprise organization is often just a decoration. The question is how to make the central apparatus more uniform and able to cooperate,” Arakas said.

Former prime minister, Reform Party member Andrus Ansip said that while the proposals are welcome, time will tell how many of them will be implemented.

“Our prime minister has more power than many of his European colleagues that is reflected especially in that our prime minister gets to decide the topics of government sittings. Prime ministers do not have such capacity in many other countries. This opinion that Estonia could have an even stronger prime minister speaks of desire for a dictator, and that is something I do not condone,” Ansip said.

The former PM added that Estonia does not need 15 ministers. “We got by with thirteen. Whether we could go from thirteen to ten is worth considering. If we get carried away with cutting the number of ministers, we run the risk of hurting European Union cooperation without gaining anything financially.”

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that the head of the government already has every opportunity to form an ambitious government and set strategic goals. The constitution gives prime ministerial candidates considerable leeway in assembling the future cabinet that should not be narrowed without good reason.

“More important than the number of ministers is for the government to be united and capable. The makeup of cabinets is not narrowly restricted in most EU countries,” Ratas said.

“While one can agree or disagree with these proposals, they definitely deserve broad and open debate,” Ratas said in closing.

The need for so many public servants should disappear in the next eight years. The State Reform Foundation proposes cutting the number of state officials by 50 percent. Viljar Arakas said that the proposal under no circumstances concerns teachers, police officers or rescuers. The foundation does not elaborate on which officials or state functions to cut and wants to leave it up to political choices. “The public sector has 160,000 people,” Arakas said. “Talking only about the central apparatus, we’re left with 15,000-20,000.”

The justice ministry could cut its staff in half by procuring services from the private sector. The environment ministry is given as another such example.

“We can give similar examples from the administrative areas of other ministries,” the foundation noted. A large part of public services could be digitized and left to algorithms. “A person must be able to only provide the state with their information once. From there, it needs to be available automatically for whitherever services,” said Jaan Pillesaar, IT businessman and one of the founders of the stare reform group.