Rare metal producer in trouble over pollution tax

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Feb 22, 2001

Silmet, one of the largest producers of rare metals in Europe, is threatening to halt its business in the northeastern part of Estonia if the Ministry of Environment imposes a tenfold increase on pollution tax. This is being considered because national pollution limits set this year are eight times lower.

Tiit Vahi, Silmet’s general director, told Estonia’s business daily Aripaev that business would be pointless if the company was forced to pay 40 million kroons ($2.4 million) in pollution charges.

Silmet’s profits last year amounted to 40 million kroons and its sales were about 500 million kroons. The company has emerged swiftly from the red since Vahi, the former prime minister of Estonia, took over the business a couple of years ago.

On Feb. 14, the ministry decided to lengthen Silmet’s water permit for last year until July 1, 2001, when the company is expected to submit its water protection plans to the ministry. The ministry will then give Silmet a schedule with roughening nitrogen pollution rates for the following two and a half years.

Eva Kraav, councilor of environmental economics at the ministry, is of the opinion that Silmet would like to receive fresh benefits from the ministry. The ministry is working on a new bill that foresees increasing environmental charges by 20 percent annually in five years.

“The company has to pay a tax rate that is 10 times higher because its pollution rate is 300 times higher than acceptable,” said Kraav.

From Jan. 1, 2003, companies in Estonia’s cities will be allowed to produce 10 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of water, while in towns the pollution level may reach 15 milligrams. These are European Union norms. She said that the average pollution rate in Estonia is currently about 20 to 25 milligrams per liter of water.

Until Dec. 31, 2000, the state allowed Silmet to launch 2,913 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of water. Since Jan. 1, 2001, the limit has been reduced to 450 milligrams per liter, the ministry reported.

Kraav said that the ministry wants to see a report from Silmet on precisely how the company is going to decrease its pollution within two years. She said that Silmet has highly educated personnel and the opportunity to ask for foreign help.

The Ministry of Environment also claims that the Silmet Group has not reduced its pollution to the required levels agreed with the government in 1998. The state gave Silmet an environmental tax benefit to the tune of 7.6 million kroons on condition that Silmet would invest around 20 million kroons in a water protection program.

According to Tonis Kaasik, CEO for Okosil, one of Silmet Group’s subsidiaries whose task it is to manage environmental projects for the group. Silmet fulfilled the requirement to decrease nitrogen pollution by more than 25 percent by the end of 1998.

“The environmental authorities accepted a report from the company in spring 1999. Silmet actually invested more in the environmental upgrading of current technologies than was agreed with the state,” said Kaasik. Silmet has invested more than 24 million kroons in environment protection since 1998.

Silmet will stop using the Sillamae waste depository by 2003. Together with a U.S. engineering company, Behre Dolbear, Silmet is working on the development of new waste management systems. The company’s waste may be used in the production of fertilizers, while radioactive and hazardous waste can be vitrified – converted into glass – for thousands of years.

“I hope that the Ministry of Environment will support our environmental protection program. Our company could be the second positive example after Kunda Nordic Cement of a complex enterprise that meets environmental requirements and allows its employees to maintain their jobs and for local authorities and the state to maintain their revenues in the budget,” said Kaasik.
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4631/

Tartu bans Soviet symbol from roadside

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Feb 15, 2001

Citizens in the Estonian city of Tartu have collected 245 signatures against the advertisement of a small gas station, Vostok Oil, which depicts a symbol of the Soviet Union – the hammer and sickle.

On Feb. 6, Tartuճ municipality decided not to allow this kind of advertising in the area immediately next to the street at 28 Ringtee, near the center of town.

“The symbols of the hammer and sickle is not prohibited in Estonia,”said Juri Molder, Tartu city secretary. “But as the owner of the land beside the road, the city of Tartuճ refused to give its consent. According to Estoniaճ Law on Roads, permission has to be received from the owner of the road before an advertisement is placed.”He said that the municipality would have had nothing to say if the ad had been placed a little further away from the land they own. He said that the law does not prohibit these kinds of pictures, and in other similar cases the city government may have had a reverse opinion.

“The city government is of the opinion that as the owner of the property it is not obliged to give reasons for its decision,”said Molder. “We took into consideration the opinion of the citizens of Tartu.”
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4585/

Eesti Telekom posts $69 million profit

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Feb 15, 2001

Eesti Telekom, Estoniaճ leading telecommunications company, earned 1.17 billion kroons ($69 million) in net profit last year on a turnover of 3.97 billion kroons.

҅esti Telekom is satisfied with the results,Ӡsaid Hille Vork, the companyճ financial manager. ҉t has been in line with managementճ expectations.Ӽp>Compared to 1999 the Estonian telecom group revenue increased 11 percent, while operating expenses grew 8 percent.

The companyճ 1999 results, however, were affected by the companyճ restructuring and the amendments to the income tax law.

According to Urmas Riiel, an analyst from Hansapank, Eesti Telekom was one of the most profitable telecommunications companies in Eastern Europe.

҅esti Telekom is well prepared for the opening of the market. We expect a moderate increase in sales and a small decline in profitability for the coming year. In general the profit should reach the same level thanks to the increasing sales,Ӡsaid Riiel.

According to Vork the revenue growth may stumble a bit this year. She said that the earnings before income tax and depreciation and amortization, which was 52 percent last year, may drop below 50 percent this year.

Analysts from the investment bank Trigon said Eesti Telekomճ revenues met its expectations but that the companyճ profit margin was smaller because of increased expenses in the fourth quarter.

Vork said that the costs increased in the fourth quarter more than expected because its subsidiary Eesti Telefon had to pay fees to the Estonian National Communications Board and premiums to the employees of Eesti Telefon and Estonian Mobile Phone in the fourth quarter.

҅esti Telekomճ full-year EBITDA was 2 percent and profits before extraordinary items 5 percent below our estimates in the year 2000,Ӡsaid Kristel Kivinurm, a Trigon Capital analyst. җe have decreased our year-end price target to 130 kroons but maintain an ԯutperformՠrating.ӠHansapankճ target share price for Eesti Telekom is 140 kroons.

In 2001 Trigon Capital expects Eesti Telekomճ net profits (excluding extraordinary items) to decline by 23 percent to 837 million kroons.

Eesti Telefonճ net profit last year was 417.1 million kroons on sales of 2.69 billion kroons. The respective figures for Estonian Mobile Telephone were 679.7 million and 1.81 billion kroons.

Eesti Telefonճ 2000 revenues were less glowing. Revenue from local calls, the companyճ fastest growing revenue sector, grew by 28 percent mostly due to the Internet dial-up service, which accounted for 40 percent of local call minutes.

At the end of 2000, Estonian Mobile Telephone had 327,000 customers, one-third of whom used pre-paid call cards. Its client base grew by 83,000 in one year and its estimated market share is about 60 percent.

Eesti Telekom invested 1.37 billion kroons in 2000. Eesti Telefon accounted for about 800 million kroons in investments, while Estonian Mobile Telephone accounted for 407 million kroons.

Eesti Telekomճ total assets were 4.62 billion kroons at the end of last year.

Eesti Telekom is reportedly considering expanding into Russia.

The company has not revealed the size of the dividends paid last year.
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4594/

Government hopes to cut gender gap

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Feb 01, 2001

The Estonian government passed a bill on Jan. 23 that aims to equalize wages paid to men and women for similar work. Another act, which addresses the equal treatment of both sexes, will come into force in 2002.

Until now, Estonian legislation has lacked clauses that would force employers to pay men and women equal salaries for the same kinds of job.

The only act prohibiting gender discrimination in Estonia is the 12th paragraph of the constitution, while in most European Union member countries equality has been regulated with a separate law since the 1970s.

The government-sponsored bill was sent to Parliament for approval and may come into force this year, said Malle Kindel, head of the labor relations department at the Ministry of Social Affairs. According to the new bill, companies should make their collective agreements public. Kindel said that employers have to know on what basis premiums are being paid.

She said that according to a recent survey of Estonian companies, the wage differential between men and women in new sectors such as banking, insurance or real estate was almost 45 percent.

She said that they had not analyzed the results of the survey and the difference may also be caused by shorter shifts. In the public sector, both genders are paid equally because the law regulates wages there.

The average hourly wage difference between sexes in Western Europe is 30 percent.

Kindel said that women are satisfied with lower positions and don’t know their rights, while men strive toward managerial posts and ask for higher salaries. Men value their knowledge higher, while women are more modest, she said.

According to statistics, female managers in Estonia earn a quarter less than men for similar work. In general, Kindel believes that it’s possible for a woman to make a career in Estonia if she has a great desire for one.
Be more macho

Ulle Papp, head of the equality bureau of the department of European Integration at the Ministry of Social Affairs has the reverse opinion. She says that women have to become masculine in order to make a career and they face obstacles on their way to the top.

“The gender equality act that we are working on allows women to be different but equal at the same time,” said Papp. “Women have been told for 50 years that they’re equal with men, while in practice it’s just the opposite. There are barriers in attitudes and stereotypes.”

The labor market is divided between masculine and feminine jobs. The masculine jobs are usually highly valued, while women have to do most of the domestic work.

She added that changes in the wage and gender equality acts are not enough to halt gender discrimination in Estonia, and that equality acts are most effectively applied in fully developed countries like Austria, Ireland and Scandinavia.

“It seems that even Spain and Portugal are outpacing Estonia in this matter,” she said.

An interesting test case for Central and Eastern Europe has been Lithuania, the only country in the region with an equality act in force. According to Papp, Lithuania has already had 90 discrimination cases within the year-and-a-half the act has been in force.
Discrimination? Not here!

According to Reet Haal, director of the Union of Leasing Companies, sexual discrimination does not exist on the Estonian labor market.

“It’s easy for women to blame men if they don’t succeed,” said Haal.

She said that if a male employer feels uncomfortable with a female boss and does not want to obey, he has to be dismissed.

“Some positions suit a particular sex better. If we look at councils or boards, there are mostly men. A woman usually holds the position of a deputy manager or finance manager, because she does not want to take too much responsibility or risks,” she said.

“Estonian women also lack self-confidence, because they have not been taught to be confident.”

Aune Past, head of the PR company Past and Partners, said that the task of a manager is to offer communication services. It doesn’t matter what the information provider looks like.

“Nowadays, managers have to have new values. This gives women an advantige. The importance of words and emotions is increasing,” said Past.

“We have a woman heading Statoil in Estonia. International practice is to employ the best specialist on the market regardless of sex.”

Raul Kalev, a spokesman for Eesti Telekom, is also of the opinion that there is no discrimination in Estonia.

“Women started fighting for their rights in the U.S.A., because they spent so much time at home. Now it is financially possible to assert their rights,” said Kalev. “Our women have been working for 50 years and they don’t know what discrimination is.”

He believes that managers of both sexes are paid equally.

“Sometimes men are paid more, because they are expected to devote more time to work. For women home is usually the number one thing and work is just a means of living,” he said.

“If a man looked at a woman differently at a business meeting in the U.S.A., which I believe sometimes happens in Estonia, a female manager would sue him at once,” Kalev said.
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4358/