Employees demand more daylight

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Apr 26, 2001

Estonian companies and city municipalities are planning to start their days earlier so they can enjoy more daylight after work. According to researchers, one third of Estonians do not like the time zone they are in, which was put into force by the national government two years ago.

Some dissatisfied people want the clocks to be changed twice a year. Others suggest keeping standard summer time all year long.

The city governments and some companies in the towns of Tartu, Voru and Tamsalu have been the first to change their office hours.

Even some parts of the emergency services are considering a time change. “Police offices in the Tallinn region may begin work 30 minutes earlier at 8 a.m. starting May 1,” said Kristo Kelder, a spokesman for the Tallinn police department.

The mayor of Tamsalu, Urmas Tamm, said it would be better if institutions like banks, post offices and polyclinics worked normal hours, because it would be convenient for the people of Tamsalu to visit these places after work.

However, he added that local municipality office workers would start work earlier from May 1. It is not yet known whether this would mean an hour or a half-hour change.

“People want to live in the daylight and sleep when it gets dark,” said Tamm. “We do not have daylight for long. It starts getting darker after Midsummer Day on June 24. Our employees have agreed to start earlier. The only problems are the opening times for schools and kindergartens, and bus timetables, which will not be changed.”

He said he had talked to the three biggest companies in Tamsalu and all agreed to also start earlier. These companies have offices in other towns as well and they will have to coordinate their work accordingly.

Vardo Arusaar, the director of Tamsalu College, said that parents have decided to continue with the same school hours. The school year is ending in a month and a half and students will not be able to accept the new regime.

“Young people will not be going to sleep any earlier and they will be sleepy in the morning. They want to see their favorite TV shows in the evening and they might not get as much sleep as they need. Also the bus timetables will not change,” said Arusaar.

Arusaar said that he would prefer having the same time all year round, because turning the clocks back and forth would be difficult for adults and children to remember. His work starts at 8 a.m., but he generally wakes up early.

“I am awake at five. I talk to my cat. But in the evenings I get tired early,” said Arusaar.

In Voru county, the local governor ordered that from April 1 the employees of the local municipality should start at 7:30 a.m. and work until 4 p.m.

Raul Tohv, an assistant to the governor, said that none of the employees had protested the new hours, which enable them to spend more time on household chores.

“The sun rises at 6.30. It’s much more effective to work in the mornings,” he said.

The local government and enterprises of Tartu are also planning to change their working hours, from May 1. Members of the Tartu Toome Rotary Club, which includes representatives from different areas, sent a note to the mayor asking to change the opening hours of all enterprises and government institutions until the beginning of October.

Enn Seppet, head of the club’s Tartu region, did not know how many enterprises had followed suit.

Sven Mikser, an assistant to the head of the opposition Center Party, said he did not like the chaotic idea of every town in Estonia working at different times.

“The government should enforce the different working hours as soon as possible. The whole of Europe turns its clocks around twice a year. I think it’s wise not to get our times mixed up with our neighbors,” said Mikser.

Hansapank, Estonia’s largest bank, decided on April 24 not to shift its working hours because it would be difficult, representatives said, to cooperate with companies that start later.

Kristiina Tamberg, a spokeswoman for Hansapank, said that the bank had been considering earlier working hours because it would give employees more spare time after work.
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4871/

Fat-cat civil servants’ incomes disclosed

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Apr 12, 2001

A special regulation in Estonia’s wage law that came into force on April 1, 2001 says that the pay of most high-level civil servants and members of the boards and supervisory councils of state-owned enterprises is now public information, freely available on the Internet.

Figures disclosed show that the heads of state-owned enterprises receive four times more than government ministers and chancellors and 20 times more than the average Estonian.

Incomes made known throughout last week formed an increasingly familiar pattern. The director of a state-owned enterprise receives 100,000 kroons ($5,700) a month, while ministers and chancellors receive 25,000 kroons each.

A typical employee at an Estonian ministry or public institution gets an average of 5,000 kroons. The average wage in Estonia is 5,280 kroons, and the average pension is just 1,200 kroons.

The highest paid Estonian civil servant is Gunnar Okk, chairman of the state-owned utility Eesti Energia, who earns 115,600 kroons a month.

The highest monthly pay registered last year was for Toomas Somera, the former chairman of the board at Eesti Telekom, who received a mammoth 191,000 kroons before leaving his job last September. However, half of this was severance pay.

Daniel Vaarik, acting adviser to the minister of finance, told The Baltic Times that the idea of disclosing salaries began four or five years ago, but that the regulation itself was signed by Minister of Finance Siim Kallas last June. The regulation, entitled “Circumstances for disclosing wages,” was included into paragraph 8 in the wage law.

“We believe that the regulation has more advantages than disadvantages. It is useful for the state but inconvenient for civil servants,” said Vaarik. “We believe that it will normalize payment policies and help prevent suspicion and corruption. It will help to solve problems that were previously covered up.”

Vaarik said that the state was aware of the salaries of the management of the state-owned enterprises, but that it was always difficult to find information about premiums, which sometimes form a large share of the total sums of income.

He acknowledged that some incomes seemed surprisingly high.

Kallas said at a news conference that the wages of the directors of state-owned companies had to be competitive, especially those of directors with a lot of responsibility who lead companies with large turnovers.

Kallas, who earns 24,000 kroons a month, has admitted that some of the bosses’ wages make him envious.

The Ministry of Finance is of the opinion that civil servants should receive one single transparent salary, which should include all possible premiums, benefits and compensations.

The minister is planning to make further amendments to the regulations. The system of compensations has to be improved, said Vaarik, because there have been cases where managers who have been dismissed return to the company after getting a hefty payoff.

The governor of Saare county, for example, refused to pay back severance pay totaling six months’ income when he returned to his post, claiming that he had earned it legally.

“But we thought this was unethical,” said Vaarik.

Vahur Kraft, the president of the bank of Estonia, kept his 1 million kroon payoff even though he returned to his post just a couple of weeks after he resigned. His total income for last year came to 1.36 million kroons.

Vaarik believed that some people may form a worse opinion of civil servants because of the sheer size of the premiums and benefits disclosed. But he also thought that the disclosures would raise interest in working in the public sector.

After the salaries were disclosed on the Internet there were complaints in the Ministry of Finance from employees who felt that their salaries had been misjudged. He believes that most institutions face this problem.

Sigrid Tappo, spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that she had not heard any complaints within the ministry. Employees have had enough time to acclimatize themselves to the idea that civil servants’ salaries were not confidential, she said.

Aap Tanav, spokesman for the Ministry of Roads and Communications, said that the salaries of his management as well as those of state-owned enterprises did not surprise him at all.

“They have responsible positions,” said Tanav. “I believe that the wage policies of state-owned enterprises are in accordance with the private sector.”

The highest earnings in all the ministries are to be found in the Ministry of Roads and Communications, where the average salary is 8,700 kroons. Tanav argued that salaries in the communications sector were high in general. If pay at the ministry were any lower, it would be hard to find good personnel.

The amendments to the wage law have made Estonia one of the few countries in the world that discloses civil servants’ salaries, said Vaarik. Similar openness was recently instituted in Hungary. “We can make the state more transparent by opening up our financial environment,” said Vaarik. “It improves the competitiveness of our country before our neighbors. We are planning to disclose everything possible in order to create a more transparent society.”
Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4809/

Estonia’s most popular car

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Apr 12, 2001

The Peugeot 206 was the most popular passenger car sold in Estonia last year. Sales of the 206 accounted for half of the Peugeots sold last year.

The other top sellers were Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan.

Marek Vihuri, director of sales at Kommest Auto, said that the Peugeot 206 is simply reliable.

“It does, what people expect it to do. It moves and it is visually enjoyable,” he said.

The car’s sticker price starts at 129,000 kroons ($8,100).

In terms of car sales in general, Peugeot was in first place with 173 new cars sold in March. Volkswagen is second with 102 cars and Toyota was third with 78. Nissan held fourth place with 66 cars.

In March 1,049 new passenger cars were sold, 106 cars more than a year ago.

According to the car dealers and service companies association AMTEL, 10,876 passenger cars were sold last year, 41 percent more than a year ago.

The French-made Peugeot led the market last year as well, if cars sold then exported are counted. The company sold a total of 1,684 passenger and utility vehicles.

In terms of passenger car sales alone, Peugeot ranked second after Volkswagen which sold 959 passenger cars, eight cars more than Peugeot. Toyota, the most popular car since the western borders were opened, ranked in third position with 927 cars.

Erkki Ots, director at Japaout , said that a lot of cars were sold last summer, although usually the purchases are made in autumn.

“People could not rest in summer because of the bad weather and they purchased the cars beforehand,” said Ots.

Ots said that the most surprising winners were Honda and Mazda, while Fiat, which is one of the most popular cars in Europe, does not sell well in Estonia.

He said that Opel, Seat and Lada are also making a progress.

“Opel reduced its prices because its supplies were poor, while Seat and Lada came out with a number of new models,” said Ots.

According to Ots a number of the cars sold in Estonia did not meet the new requirements enforced by the government since Jan. 1 and were therefore sold with large discounts until the end of March, when Euro 2 cars were banned in Estonia.

Due to the higher requirements many car salesman have discovered the opportunity to increase the prices of their Euro 3 cars.

Ots said thought it ridiculous that in Estonia, a country where the quality of fuel sold is so bad, that the cars sold have to be the best.

“It is a total anarchy,” said Ots. “The car market has been put in order, we do not import Euro 2 cars and the cars produced for the American market. Why didn’t the government improve the fuel market as well?”

Andrus Prants, the marketing manager at the Volkswagen dealership Saksa Auto, said his company’s brand is successful because they have a wide variety of car models to offer.

“The sales of Golf, Bora and Passat are equally strong,” said Prants.

Ots said that people like German cars and Volkswagen is a market leader in most European countries.

Prants expects a 10 percent increase in car sales this year.

Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4825/

Reshuffle of accused ministers put off

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Apr 05, 2001

Estonia’s governing coalition has not yet started reshuffling the government, but it is under pressure from the public and the media to replace two unpopular ministers who have failed to privatize Eesti Raudtee, the freight arm of Estonia’s rail system.

Coalition members have carefully avoided naming the ministers ? Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja and Transportation and Communications Minister Toivo Jurgenson ? in recent speeches.

Estonian President Lennart Meri also suggested replacing some of the unpopular ministers with more competent ones in order to improve the prospects of the coalition in the next parliamentary elections, the daily Eesti Paeveleht reported.

Prime Minister Mart Laar admitted the need for change, but said it could not happen before new regulations concerning the replacement of ministers are approved by the coalition’s council, he said in an interview to Eesti Raadio.

The chairman of the coalition council Andres Tarand prepared the reshuffle plan this week and the coalition is supposed to express an opinion about the changes within two weeks.

“It’s about the image of the government,” said Laar.

Tarand believes that the ministers should not be replaced until their guilt has been proven. He said that the ministers have done what the Parliament or government has told them to do.

Former Prime Minister Mart Siimann, who currently heads the Coalition Party faction, believes the prime minister should step down instead of blaming the ministers whom he picked.

He said Laar’s resignation would also relieve political tensions and save the coalition’s image for the remaining two years of its scheduled term.

The opposition is also planning a no-confidence vote against Laar in the first week of April on the basis of the high unemployment level and confusion over the railway privatization.

The vice chairman of the Centrist Party, Peeter Kreitzberg, told Eesti Paeveleht that the coalition’s image would not improve unless at least half of the ministers and the prime minister stepped down.

Unlike Siimann, the president praised the skills of the prime minister in keeping the ruling coalition together and securing the development of the state.

Members of the Reform Party from Tartu declared on March 30 that the problem ministers should step down regardless of whether they are guilty or not, because people have lost faith in them.

But Andrus Ansip, the mayor of Tartu, said that only the ministers who failed to do their work properly should step down.

Since Jurgenson represents the Pro Patria Union and Parnoja the Moderates, the third member leaving office could come from the Reform Party and, according to BNS, it might be Regional Affairs Minister Toivo Asmer.

“How the mechanism of the replacement of ministers will work in the future depends on the coalition council’s decision,” said Laar.

In the past ministers were replaced by MPs from their own parties.

Parnoja is not willing to step down of his own accord until he is asked to resign by his party.

“If I resigned now of my own accord I’d give the impression that the largely unfounded accusations directed towards me are true,” he said at a March 27 news conference.

The Pro Patria Union party has suggested replacing the two unpopular ministers with 31-year-old Kersti Kaljulaid, who works as an economics adviser to the prime minister. She joined the party three weeks ago.

In spite of the scandals, support for the opposition has never exceeded the combined popularity of the governing coalition.

Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4779/

Diesel blunder could cost state millions

The Baltic Times, TALLINN
By Kairi Kurm
Apr 05, 2001

An error in regulations prepared by Estonia’s Ministry of Economy last June may have denied the state hundreds of millions of kroons in unpaid duties and probably also caused damage to Estonian car engines, the business daily Aripaev discovered March 27.

The nationwide regulations for quality norms of liquid fuels, signed by Minister of Economy Mihkel Parnoja, misprinted an acidity level in the summer diesel fuel that was 25 times higher than that permitted by European norms.

The regulations foresaw 2 milligrams of potassium hydroxide (KOH) per gram of summer diesel instead of the necessary 5 mg KOH/100 cm3 acidity level. The blunder appeared in the regulations three times.

By using this mistake the importers of light heating oil have had the opportunity to fool the state by selling specially marked oil as diesel fuel after adding acid to it. Some enterprising individuals have been taking advantage of this mistake. At one site discovered in Harju county recently, light heating oil was being processed using sulfuric acid.

Statistics show that the consumption of diesel fuel is 4.7 times higher in Estonia than its imports of this type of fuel. An average of 28,000 tons of diesel fuel is consumed every month, while only 6,000 tons are imported.

This means that since the excise duty of diesel fuel is 3,040 kroons ($173) per ton and the duty for light heating oil is only 500 kroons, the state has been losing about 56 million kroons a month in unpaid duties.

Parnoja said he was amazed that it took so long to spot the mistake, and that it could have slipped into the regulations in the first place. The regulations were worked out with the cooperation of specialists from the car salesmen’s union AMTEL, energy sector businessmen and scientists.

“We have to find out why nobody noticed it before,” Parnoja commented to Aripaev.

Aleksander Johanson, head of Kutuste Umarlaud, a union that comprises car salesmen, scientists and fuel-related entrepreneurs, said that their suggestions had not been taken into account. He hinted that the mistake may have slipped in ? and the regulations taken advantage of ? deliberately.

The high level of acidity could, according to Johanson, cause corrosion and damage car engines.

Maria Alajoe, the minister’s adviser, said the cause was human error, that of the senior specialist of the ministry’s energy department. She added that the manager of the department and the minister himself are also responsible for the mistake.

However, “The energy department has done its best to fix the mistake as quickly as possible,” said Alajoe. A new and improved version of the regulations came into force on April 1, 2001.

The minister has also sent a request to the Estonian Energy Market Inspectorate and to an expert in liquid fuels, Leevi Molder, a well-respected professor at Tallinn Technical University, to find out whether the mistake has enabled some companies to cash in on it and fool the state.

Not everybody agrees that fuel quality has suffered a great level of damage. “Liquid fuel quality tests ordered by the Estonian Energy Market Inspectorate and the Estonian Consumer Protection Board in 2000 showed that the parameters of fuel samples tested were within the allowable limits, even those for acidity requirements,” said Alajoe.

Indeed, tests ordered by AMTEL from Belgian experts last November also showed that the quality of diesel sold in Estonia was tolerable. The only shortcoming found, in about half the samples tested, was in the bad oil characteristics of diesel.

The tests showed that the most problematic fuel on the Estonian market was gasoline 95, where half of the samples had a smaller octane rate than that indicated in certificates, and most containing too much unwashed gum.

Source: http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/4788/