SDE, IRL make first moves as question of MPs serving on SOE boards remains unresolved in government (1)
The Estonian government discussed the question of recalling MPs from the supervisory boards of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) at a cabinet meeting on Thursday, however the issue remained unresolved, to be continued at an extraordinary cabinet meeting scheduled for next week. In the meantime, however, minitsters belonging to the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) have already begun recalling Reform Party MPs from SOEs in their administrative fields.
On the government’s table on Thursday was an alternative proposal, submitted upon the request of the Prime Minister by State Secretary Heiki Loot. The proposal involved a parliamentary committee being the one to appoint MPs to SOE supervisory boards in the future.
Thus far, the primary potential solution under consideration has been that of Minister of Finance Sven Sester, who found that ministers should not be allowed to appoint MPs to company supervisory boards and that MPs currently serving on supervisory boards should be recalled. Both the SDE and IRL support this approach.
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise reiterated her previous stance at Thursday's meeting, finding that MPs belonging to the supervisory boards of companies in state ownership is not unconstitutional if the Riigikogu appoints them for the purpose of parliamentary supervision.
According to the state secretary's proposal, a dedicated committee of the Riigikogu would be in charge of choosing, appointing and recalling MPs; the committee would also be able to appoint an individual who is not an MP as an impartial board member as well as waive the right to appoint a board member. This member would then report to the corresponding committee, not the government.
The government took note of the proposal and entertained other alternatives as well. Further discussions on the matter, however, will continue at an extraordinary cabinet meeting next week.
Tsahkna: Situation is curious
Following the cabinet meeting, IRL Chairman and Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna told ETV's news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" in a studio interview that the discussion in the government was very curious.
"The Chancellor of Justice stated very clearly that the current situation, in which MPs appointed there by ministers belong to company supervisory boards, is an unconstitutional situation and that it must be eliminated," said Tsahkna. "My position is very clear: MPs must be recalled. On one hand, nobody argued against this, but on the other hand, attempts were made to try to figure out how these MPs could remain [on the supervisory boards] under some new scheme."
The minister added that it was a shame that the Reform Party did not agree to recall these people. "To be honest, the situation is curious," he added, although he stressed that this wasn't a matter of a political disagreement. "Everyone is equal before the law, especially before the Constitution," said Tsahkna.
"MPs are lawmakers," he continued. "The are one of the [legislative] executors of authority. The executive power is the one who directs state enterprises. Neither IRL nor the SDE has appointed members who are MPs over the last ten years."
Michal: A solution exists, whether anyone wants it is different matter
Speaking in an interview with "Aktuaalne kaamera," Reform Party member and Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kristen Michal did not agree with the claim that his party was just being stubborn, pointing out that "...today as well the state secretary's compromise proposal was on the table that the Chancellor of Justice, who attended the cabinet meeting, assessed to be constitutional. A solution actually exists; whether anyone wants to use it is another matter. But this discussion will continue."
Michal stressed that the state secretary's proposal fulfills the requirements deemed constitutional by the Chancellor of Justice.
"I will provide an example — there are party representatives on the supervisory boards of the Estonian Broadcasting Service, the Bank of Estonia and the State Forest Management Centre (RMK)," said Michal. "Their responsibility is to provide a certain perspective and formulate strategic goals. The Riigikogu does not operate in a vacuum. Might I recall that at one point, MPs were only permitted to be involved in publishing or research in addition to their work; today, half of them are entrepreneurs."
SDE, IRL chairmen make first moves to begin recalling MPs
SDE Chairman and Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski intends to sign a decree recalling MP Peep Aru (Reform) from the supervisory board of the Viljandi Hospital Foundation, which according to a Ministry of Social Affairs spokesperson had already been prepared but had yet to be digitally signed by the minister. There were no further Reform Party MPs belonging to the supervisory boards of SOEs under his field of administration.
In the meantime, IRL Chairman and Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna signed a decree recalling MP Laine Randjärv (Reform) from the supervisory board of state lottery firm Eesti Loto AS. While Eesti Loto belongs to Minister of Finance Sven Sester's (IRL) field of administration, the latter is currently on vacation and Tsahkna is filling in for him.
"With regard to the position of the Chancellor of Justice that the belonging of MPs to the supervisory boards of state companies and their appointment by the [respective] responsible minister is unconstitutional, I recalled, in acting to fulfill the Ministry of Finance's duties, MPs serving on the supervisory boards of SOEs and foundations and proposed recalling those MPs the right to the appointment of whom is held the Minister of Finance by law," Tsahka wrote in a letter to Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Kristen Michal, a member himself of the Reform Party.
Tsahkna also proposed to Michal that he recall Remo Holsmer and Toomas Kivimägi from the supervisory board of Liinirongid AS, Valdo Randpere from the board of AS Eesti Loots, Peep Aru from the board of AS EVR Cargo, Meelis Mälberg from the board of AS Eesti Teed, Kalle Palling from the board of the Estonian Environmental Research Centre (KIK) and Laine Randjärv from the supervisory board of the Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol Foundation.
On Thursday evening, Ossinovski wrote on Facebook, where he announced that he was glad that the Reform Party agreed on Thursday that MPs are currently appointed to supervisory boards by ignoring the constitutional separation of powers. "Somewhat surprisingly the government did not reach an agreement, but obviously following from the previous sentence: MPs need to be recalled from these supervisory boards," stressed the SDE chairman. "Recognizing being at odds with the Constitution demands that steps be taken to eliminate this [situation]. But what the heck, as a decision did not come from the government, every minister must decide for themselves how to eliminate this conflict with the Constitution within their field of administration."
According to unconfirmed sources, SDE ministers Indrek Saar and Liisa Oviir are also planning on recalling Reform Party MPs from the supervisory boards of SOEs.
No MPs belonging to SDE or IRL belong to the supervisory boards of any SOEs.
Reform secretary general: Solution is new appointment system
BNS reported that Reform Party Secretary General Reimo Nebokas has criticized the behavior of their coalition partners, noting that the ruling coaliation's other members do not wish to discuss the matter.
"Tens of MPs have been appointed to state foundation supervisory boards by the Riigikogu: Estonian Public Broadcasting, the Council of the Gambling Tax, the Guarantee Fond, the Estonian National Opera, the National Library of Estonia, the Health Insurance Fund, the Russian Theater of Estonia, the RMK, the KIK and the National Foundation are examples of MPs from different parties who fulfill their role on supervisory boards," explained Nebokat.
According to Nebokat, the Chancellor of Justice together with the state secretary has proposed a solution to the government whose discussion will continue next week.
"Th solution is a new system of appointment which would result in the appointment of MPs to SOE and foundation supervisory boards by the Riigikogu," said, Nebokas. "The coalition partners' wish is to not discuss the compromise proposal submitted by the Chancellor of Justice and state secretary. This is a pseudosubject, just as Erkki Raasuke has referred to the size of this dispute."