New Minister of Economy Liina Tonisson has started the long awaited merger of the Roads and Communications Ministry and the Economy Ministry. The two ministries have been operating as two separate entities under one minister, Tonisson, since January.
Former ministers are lukewarm about the idea.
"It'll be a ministry with a huge area of responsibility that is difficult to manage," said former Economy Minister Henrik Hololei. "I believe that when Estonia becomes a member of the European Union the minister of economy will have to spend more time outside Estonia than the minister of foreign affairs does. There are constant meetings of the councils which the minister has to attend."
Former Minister of Roads and Communications Toivo Jurgenson said that while representing one ministry he could not attend all the necessary meetings.
"I tried to participate in at least two international meetings a month and was constantly balancing near international scandals," he said. "The annual forums of international institutions on shipping, aviation, railway and road transportation were always attended by ministers.
"Besides that she should propose new bills in Parliament and attend Cabinet and government meetings."
According to Aap Tanav, former spokesman of the Ministry of Roads and Communications, the tasks of both ministries don't coincide.
The Ministry of Economy deals mostly with energy policy, trade and construction, he said. Only the number of employees from the administrative, accounting and public relations departments could be decreased in a merger, he said.
The Ministry of Roads and Communications currently employs 80 people, while the Ministry of Economy has 140 employees.
"The economic effect is small," said Tanav. "Cutting down 10 million kroons ($562,000) in a 2 billion kroon budget is a small number."
Efficiency not cost savings is the prime motive behind the merger, according to Kuldar Vaarsi, a spokesman for the Roads and Communications Ministry.
"We aren't aiming at creating an inexpensive organization, but a better and more effective structure," said Vaarsi.
Jurgenson said that a positive effect would be that economic policy could be worked out by one structure.
The responsibilities of each ministry have decreased since most of the state-owned companies were privatized. According to Jurgenson there were over 600 state-owned companies in 1994 when he was the minister of economy. By 1995 there were 23.
Both Jurgenson and Tanav said the new ministry would work on roads and communications issues, while the Economy Ministry's duties could be divided between other ministries.
The idea to merge the ministries was first raised in 1997, when several government officials said there were too many ministries for a country of Estonia's size.
The merger should be completed by the end of November.