Rural affairs minister wants to relieve second ministry official of duties

Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE).
Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) says that he wants to relieve another ministry official of his duties, ERR reports.

Järvik, who is embroiled in controversy surrounding an alleged conflict of interest following the hiring of an adviser, and subject to an enquiry ordered by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) on Wednesday, says that Deputy Secretary General for Food Safety Toomas Kevvai should be removed from his post at the rural affairs ministry.

This follows similar statements Järvik made about ministry Secretary General Illar Lemetti.

On being questioned at the Riigikogu following a no-confidence motion in Järvik presented by opposition parties Thursday morning, Liina Kersna (Reform) asked why the minister had amended ministry statutes aimed at removing Kevvai.

"You have also initiated an amendment to the Ministry's Statute, in which you wish to remove one of the deputy secretaries, specifically the one responsible for food safety, long term deputy secretary general Toomas Kevvai … my question is: What are your grounds for mistrust [of Kevvai]?" Kersna inquired.

Järvik conceded that he had been initiated the process, saying issues with the activities of the ministry's bodies dealing with food safety were the cause.

"I can answer that question. With this, I am ensuring that food safety work in Estonia is perfect. At the moment, there are problems in this area, as a food safety audit also demonstrated," he said.

A second controversy involving Järvik emerged in the media recently, surrounding the point in time when he became aware of Listeria bacteria allegedly traced to fish processing plant M.V.Wool, near Tallinn, and linked to the deaths of several people worldwide.

Responding to additional questions from Kersna and Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform), Järvik testified that on Wednesday evening he signed a proposal to amend the ministry's statute, sending it to a coordinating process, in order to be discussed at a government meeting next week.

The Ministry of Rural Affairs has three such deputy secretaries general, Kevvai is Deputy Secretary General for Food Safety and Research and Development. 

Earlier in his response, Järvik said he had been caught up in a scandal over a dispute at the ministry when he announced that he wanted to initiate a food safety audit, after which the deputy secretary general and a number of other officials began working against him.

"It started with a desire to initiate a food safety audit. From that point, we no longer got any cooperation from the deputy secretary general. Furthermore, a counterattack against me began, not only from him (i.e. Kevvai-ed.), but also by some [other] officials, now amplified by the media to the extent that I am now on the [Rigikogu] podium honored to receive a list of those distrusted," said Järvik.

Järvik has also publicly stated that he wants to remove Secretary of State for Rural Affairs Illar Lemetti from his post. Lemetti reached the six month minimum statutory period after which a minister can terminate his employment, at the end of October, though the move would require cabinet approval.

Lemetti told ERR late last week that Järvik had declined to sign a mandate which would give the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA) authority to claim damages as plaintiff in an EU subsidy fraud case. Järvik's former adviser, Urmas Arumäe, who resigned on Friday, had been acting on behalf of the defendants, leading to claims of a conflict of interest, since the PRIA falls under the rural affairs ministry's remit.

Järvik said that his authorization was not needed in the matter, producing correspondence from justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) in support of his case.

ERR had already approached the rural affairs ministry Wednesday afternoon for clarification on claims that Järvik wanted to remove Kevva, and also to integrate his subordinate departments with other deputies

The ERR news portal asked the Ministry of Rural Affairs already Wednesday afternoon whether it is true that Minister Järvik wants to get rid of Toomas Kevvai, the Deputy Secretary General for Food Safety of the Ministry of Rural Affairs, and to integrate the department with that of other deputy secretaries general, but no response had been received to the query as of the time of writing.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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