Auditor General Janar Holm in the annual report: lessons from the corona crisis should help us prepare for the new crises ahead

11/8/2021 | 11:29 AM

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TALLINN, 8 November 2021. – Auditor General Janar Holm today handed over the annual report of the National Audit Office to the Speaker of the parliament Jüri Ratas, focusing on the lessons learned during the crisis caused by the coronavirus. The NAO emphasises the need to rethink the various aspects of the entire crisis management system so that the ability to respond to new and still unknown crises would be better in the future than it has been in the case of the coronavirus.

When presenting the report, Auditor General Janar Holm emphasised that the observations of the first and second waves of the pandemic in nearly the last two years and the lessons learned, which the NAO report summarises, are not intended to drag up the past or find culprits, but to bring these lessons along to the future. "The problems of the functioning of the state that we are currently seeing in the case of the corona crisis are not really corona-specific, as these problems have always existed, and they simply are manifested more noticeably now than in the normal situation. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of administrative and political will to solve these systemic problems,” Auditor General Janar Holm commented on the recent annual report.

The National Audit Office has prepared and published several audits, reviews and memoranda concerning aspects of resolving the corona crisis. According to Auditor General Janar Holm, when approaching the third peak of coronavirus, it seems that the lessons from the first and second waves have not lost their relevance.

In the opinion of the National Audit Office, informing the public about government decisions, restrictions and instructions on what to do should be significantly more well-organised. "When making restrictions or relaxations, we have to think with many heads, but to articulate the decision with one voice," said Auditor General Janar Holm. "Otherwise, people will be confused about how to behave, what to do, and what the rules are," Holm emphasised that if, after all, something is decided, those decisions must be fully and unequivocally enforced. "In a crisis situation, society clearly perceives when the government seems hesitant, and this is immediately reflected in taking the state power seriously, whether one or another rule is enforced or ignored," Holm said.

The NAO also considers that information should be provided to people through official channels and when the government's decision is final. If the public figures involved share various suggestions and comments in both formal and informal channels at any time and before the government's decision, the result is a cacophony of messages. The precondition for avoiding this is that, first of all, the decision-makers themselves understand in the same manner what was decided. In addition, it is necessary to know whether it was decided at all, and, most importantly, why it was decided in favour of one or another measure or restriction, and how it will help to resolve the crisis.

The National Audit Office acknowledges that the tasks and responsibilities of state agencies are sometimes not only vaguely distributed, but also unrealistic. According to the Emergency Situations Act, crisis management should be organised by the relevant ministry in its management sphere, but the Ministry of Social Affairs shifted responsibility to the Health Board, which had not and could not have the capacity to resolve a nationwide crisis. In such a situation, it was inevitable and reasonable that the coordination of crisis resolution was finally taken over by the Government Office. In the opinion of the National Audit Office, the coordinating role of the Government Office in settling the crisis covering the entire country may be acclaimed, but it has also to be more precisely fixed in legislative and regulatory acts so that they reflect real life.

Vaccination without a clear action plan and a flexible response tends to get stuck. According to the National Audit Office, vaccination in the spring and summer was not so much hampered by a lack of vaccines or people's weak interest, but by the poor and inflexible organisation. As early as mid-February 2021, the Auditor General expressed his concern that we may be in a situation where the vaccine is starting to accumulate on the shelves and the ability to organise large-scale vaccinations is becoming a problem. In the end, the various flexible possibilities to increase the number of people vaccinated were unused or implemented with an unnecessary delay. There was also a reluctance on the part of public authorities to involve the private sector widely and to accept ideas coming from outside the public system.

Supporting companies in a crisis must be swift, justified, and transparent, regardless of the minister or ministry that hands out the money. In the interests of business confidence, on top of restrictions, the information on what support the state provides must be communicated as soon and as exactly as possible. The criteria for awarding support must be clear: fast feet and quick fingers cannot be the touchstone. Consideration could be given to implementing support measures through a single channel, for example under the aegis of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

Efforts should be made to ensure that the state support for a local government in crisis, takes into account its real need for assistance. The analysis by the National Audit Office shows that most local governments would have managed without state crisis assistance. In the spring of 2020, it was feared that the crisis would grind down a tenth of local government revenues. The state allocated in two years a total of approximately 182 million euros to cover the expected decline in the revenue base and additional costs, as well as investments. However, in 2020 the revenues of local governments increased. In the opinion of the National Audit Office, the subsidies allocated to local governments for economic recovery in 2020 did not fulfill their goal, as only a little more than 10% of this money reached the economy in 2020. Considering the solid general financial position of local governments, it is questionable how justified it was to continue with similar support measures in 2021.

Priit Simson
Head of Communications of the National Audit Office of Estonia
+372 640 0102
+372 5615 0280
priit.simson@riigikontroll.ee
press@riigikontroll.ee
http://www.riigikontroll.ee/

  • Posted: 11/8/2021 11:29 AM
  • Last Update: 11/8/2021 10:31 AM
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When approaching the third peak of coronavirus, it seems that the lessons from the first and second waves have not lost their relevance.

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