Maria Alajõe, currently secretary general of the Riigikogu and former CEO of Enterprise Estonia, told ERR’s radio news in an interview on Friday that she was not aware of any personal responsibility in the events surrounding OÜ Ermamaa, the company of former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and the grant approved for it.
Alajõe’s five-year term as the Estonian parliament’s most recent secretary general is about to expire. She would like to stay on, and is one of the candidates for the coming term—but her involvement in the grant scandal surrounding Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ OÜ Ermamaa has made her an increasingly controversial figure.
Alajõe: Method was flawed, decisions were sound
After clarifying that nominally, she had never been CEO of Enterprise Estonia (she was the fund’s only management member), Alajõe insisted in her interview with ERR’s radio news that nobody at Enterprise Estonia ever made a decision alone.
Consultants and jurists had been involved, and the latter had drafted the decision in question as well, Alajõe said. “I signed it as a management member involved with the tourism department, and according to internal regulations, the management member of that department signed it. That makes it evident that I was not the CEO in this management,” she reasoned.
Asked directly whether or not she felt responsible for what happened, Alajõe said that several aspects needed to be considered in the case.
“Like I said, one can at no time decide alone in this organization. Here mistakes were made in 2012 and in 2016. And you can see how Enterprise Estonia clearly said that the mistake was not deliberate, but that it was in the method,” Alajõe said.
She went on to explain that their assessment in 2012 had been that Ermamaa’s assets had been used for a purpose “very close” to that of the business plan, had received tourists (official guests of President Ilves, for whose accommodation and amenities the Estonian state paid Ermamaa; ed.), introduced Estonia’s touristic potential to various visitors, and arranged conferences and seminars.
Enterprise Estonia’s jurists found that this needed to be taken into account when demanding money back from the company, Alajõe explained. Now this was seen as an error of method, she added.
According to Alajõe, the problem was that they needed to make a conditional decision how to handle the matter in the future based on their understanding of it at the time, as further along the way, such a decision might not have been possible anymore.
Alajõe: Enterprise Estonia’s aim was to keep Ärma Farm open
Going on, Alajõe then stated that this was the only way they had to make sure that anything could be demanded back from Ermamaa at all. Furthermore, the clear direction of the decision made by her management in 2012 was to assume that Ermamaa would continue with its business plan in 2017 and beyond. The letter sent to Parts had had the intent to find other potential sources of funding, so that Ermamaa could have been “opened afterwards”, Alajõe said.
They had tried to find funding to compensate the European Commission for the ineligible grant, and among other things also looked at Enterprise Estonia’s own reserves. From there, Alajõe jumps onwards to the year 2016, saying that the reaction to her letter to Parts “arrived four years later”, and that had they been able to discuss all available options back then, perhaps a better solution could have been found.
“But the objective of Enterprise Estonia clearly was to ensure that Ärma Farm could be open today as a tourist attraction,” Alajõe added.
Towards ERR’s radio news, she insisted that the Ermamaa case and her work as secretary general of Estonia’s parliament had to be seen as two completely different matters, a point of view that President of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor (SDE) supports, but other politicians, such as chairman of the parliament’s anti-corruption committee Artur Talvik (Free Party), energetically disagree with.
Criticism notwithstanding, Alajõe confirmed that she would run for a second term as secretary general of the Riigikogu.
Ermamaa, started by Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ ex-wife, Evelin Ilves, was granted just over €190,000 in 2006 to develop the family’s country home, Ärma Farm, into a tourism farm. Ilves was elected president the same year, and the company’s plans never put into practice.
As CEO of Enterprise Estonia, Alajõe was responsible for a decision of the fund made in 2012 to wait until the end of Ilves’ second term in 2016, and to then reassess whether or not Ermamaa should be made to pay back the by now ineligible grant.
As became known earlier this week, Alajõe also sent a letter to then-minister of economic affairs, Juhan Parts (IRL), in which she asked him what he would think about paying the amount of the grant, minus some 10 percent Ilves would cover himself, back to the European Commission out of state funds.
Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn