(The following is a column written by Meelis Mandel, the editor-in-chief of Äripäev, translated into English by Gertud Levit of the same paper for BBN)
My hand is itching to find a paper to sign, when reading the opinion article [see link below] that was published in Irish Independent (thanks to the editor of foreign news, who pointed it out) about the Irish finance and prime minister Brian Cowen.
The dealings of Cowen are a bit far for right now. But as both a citizen and a journalist I’m increasingly worried about our Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. It’s surprising just how much of what is happening in Estonia resembles Ireland, which has been presented as and has been our role model, the actions (or the lack of thereof) of the prime ministers is similar as well.
Economy that has been growing for 15 years has dropped to its knees. Construction capacity, real estate prices, and domestic consumption – all of it is falling. Interests are rising. Government predicts a 0.5 pct of economic growth for this year, but the option of a negative outcome is still in air. The state budget put together in the end of the previous air is so optimistic that it feels as if it was written while smoking hemp.
That’s what is happening in Ireland right now. Seems familiar? True, in Ireland the statistics also show record number in unemployment, we don’t seem to have that large of problem just yet, but job agencies do report that the number of people looking for a job is rising. In Ireland, the discussions are about letting the state budget end in an even bigger deficit; here, it’s a question whether we should allow a deficit in the first place.
But in my opinion the behaviour of both prime ministers is the remarkable thing. Just like Cowen, Ansip and his government seem to operate on the principle “my promise only counts, when the optimistic prediction comes true”. No cardinal steps are taken. There’s only talking, discussing, stalling.
What will happen if the minus in tax accruing falls becomes even deeper, as the reality has different from predictions for every month of this year?
What will happen if Swedbank finally breaks under the pressure of share holders and foreign investors and starts “making SEB” here? Maybe it will take over Hansabank’s management from Erkki Raasuke and his team and will bend the arm of everyone in trouble or any enterprise or person who might face trouble soon. New rules will be established. Then the bankruptcy notices of Rüütmann and Sedin might not be important enough to be covered in news.
A lot of “what will happens” could be written. But what is done about it here?
Ministries report that they are cancelling their summer days. There are long arguments about freezing the wages of members of parliament and high state officials, which would save EEK 45 million. Or perhaps the construction of a house will be postponed.
We can’t make people trust Estonia’s economy like this. It’s time for Ansip to take off his pink glasses and show that he still is the authoritarian leader he was during the bronze night. It’s not about how you understand history or whether you’ll offend or insult someone. It’s taking responsibility before voters and citizens who have gave you a job to do.
Firstly, Ansip has to forcefully freeze the wages of public sector for two years. Right now, with no exceptions. Including the wages in enterprises controlled by the state.
Secondly, the public sector has to be made to save. Give a number that has to be saved to every ministry and then to stick to it. And observe. I don’t want to see “additional expenses” under the line “additional expenses” in the budget of some state authority again. The private sector is reducing the number of employees and cutting down on expenses. The public sector has to do the same.
Thirdly, nail the strongbox with suggestions to raise taxes closed. I don’t support differencing taxes, but it’s wrong to increase accommodation VAT just to fill is the state budget.
It’s the other way around. Only lower taxes bring about progress. I wholly support setting a maximum limit to social tax, and the plan to lower the income tax of a private person has to be carried out.
Only by doing all of that the prime minister can show that he’s in charge. If he’s not, he has to pass on the torch.
* Link to Independent article is here:
Ansip – show that you are in charge!