Institutions of executive power and the public service

In their communications with state power, ordinary citizens rarely have any direct contact with the government or the ministries. They pay taxes to the tax board, which falls within the area of government of the Ministry of Finance; they get their passports at the Citizenship and Migration Board within the Ministry of Internal Affairs; their children go to a school that is subordinated to local government, but belongs to the sphere of government that is the Ministry of Education; the children go on to public law universities; when ill they turn to hospitals, which can be a legal person in private law (foundation, company, non-profit organisation) and still belong in the area of government of the Ministry of Social Affairs. All of these cases concern an area of life which falls within the sphere of government of a ministry and has rules established in the government and confirmed in the Riigikogu, but which actually operates on the lower levels of the structure of the authority of executive power.

The most important institutions of executive power are those government agencies (primarily various offices and inspectorates) with the task of directly carrying out the public authority. These institutions have the authority to issue orders (the tax board can demand the payment of unpaid taxes) and vetoes (The Labour Inspectorate can forbid working in dangerous conditions), grant various rights (e.g. the acquisition of citizenship from the Ministry of Interior), or exempt from duties (exemption from citizenship examinations in special cases). The activity of such establishments is fairly strictly regulated by law and their freedom to make decisions is often quite insignificant: for instance, the tax board has the authority to collect taxes, but it can collect them only in the manner fixed by the relevant law. When government institutions fail to follow the law, citizens can resort to the court or ask the ministry to carry out supervisory checks.

Since government institutions execute direct power, their employees are in a special position as well — they are known as public servants, whose employment conditions are stipulated by the Public Service Act and not by a contract of employment. The employees working in government institutions are those who carry out the state power and thus they are especially important for the executive power. Public servants should form the best part of officialdom. One quite erroneous notion is that most Estonian officials have been in office since the Soviet period. In fact, 75 per cent of all officials have actually worked in public service for less than 10 years. 80 per cent of high-ranking officials have higher education. Also significant is the fact that the number of men and women amongst officials is more or less the same.

The apparatus of executive authority must fulfil the constitutional functions of the state. One of the most important of these is to secure the survival of Estonian nationhood and culture. A prominent role in this regard is played by the institutions of public law. The essential institutions from the point of view of developing and maintaining national culture include, first of all, state universities, the Estonian national opera, the National Library, the Estonian Academy of Sciences, and also the Estonian Television and Radio. Public law organisations have an independent legal status and a considerable freedom in their relations with the ministries. The independence of broadcasting and national university vis-à-vis the political and administrative leadership of the state is stipulated in the constitution.

A number of state agencies, administered by government institutions, have been established in order to offer various public services, e.g. theatres, museums, welfare institutions or state schools (most schools are administered by local governments). Similar state institutions do not directly execute the state power, but their functioning is carried out on the basis of the same principles as the government institutions — it can only occur in accordance with the law. To fulfil its tasks, the state can set up public limited companies, private law foundations and non-profit organisations. In addition to non-privatised state companies, of which only a few have remained (e.g. Estonian Energy), the state has established dozens of new ones. Mention can be made here of Enterprise Estonia and AS Andmevara (company operating in the field of information technology), or the Tartu University Clinic, created in collaboration with the city of Tartu, the University of Tartu and the state, which constitutes the supporting pillar of the entire South-Estonian health system.

Partly due to the initiative of right-wing parties, the state has in recent years often used the help of the private sector, establishing contractual relations with already existing companies and third sector organisations. Parking in Tallinn, for instance, is arranged by a private security firm. Following examples from abroad, plans to privatise prisons have also been considered as well. Although third sector organisations have not so far been extensively used in executing public authority, the co-operation in various spheres of life, e.g. in welfare services, has been quite successful.

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