Opposition leaders of the Reform Party and Social Democratic Party (SDE) have condemned the release of Illar Lemetti from his post as Ministry of Rural Affairs Secretary General, saying it sets a precedent for further silencing of officials.
Reform Party chair Kaja Kallas said that Lemetti's dismissal is demonstration of the coalition punishing those who are honest, law-abiding and conscientious in their work.
"The Prime Minister himself ordered a report from the Secretary of State, which stated that Secretary General Lemetti was telling the truth. However, a civil servant who stood for the truth can be punished by today's government's decision before minister Järvik, [involved in] a corruption scandal, is removed," Kallas said, according to ERR.
"As a result of a political agreement, Mart Järvik has been forced out due to several violations, yet the government will hand over €30,000 in prize money where everywhere else they are looking to make cuts," Kallas added, referring to the six-months severance pay Mart Järvik will receive under Estonian law. Illar Lemetti, who says he is taking the matter to court, will also receive six months' salary following his release.
"It is particularly disgraceful that the truth-teller is being turned into a political commodity in order to keep EKRE in the government and to remain in power," Kallas continued.
Kallas added that the release of Lemetti sends a frightening signal to other civil servants, that if you go to report corruption, you will lose your job.
Lemetti had reported that Mart Järvik had declined to give his assent to a damages claim by the agricultural registers and information board (PRIA), which falls under the rural affairs ministry's remit, in a case where it was plaintiff and some of the defendants had been represented by Järvik's then-advisor Urmas Arumäe. While Arumäe stepped down earlier in November, claims of conflict of interest remained, and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas ordered a government inquiry into Järvik's actions. Järvik refused to step down despite the findings of the inquiry, that he had exceeded his authority in the PRIA case and also been inconsistent about when he first became aware of Listeria outbreaks traced to fish processing plant M.V.Wool.
In the meantime, Järvik called for the release of Lemetti on the grounds on non-cooperation. This required governmental assent, which was granted on Monday, though little more than an hour after Lemetti's release was reported, Jüri Ratas was giving a press conference in which he proposed relieving Järvik of his duties as well.
"EKRE is today Centre and Isamaa's political 'roof', in further attacks on the rule of law and the principles of good governance," Kallas went on.
SDE leader's response
SDE chair Indrek Saar said that Lemetti's dismissal is evidence of the coalition putting pressure on Estonian officials as the result of Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) tactics.
"The government of Jüri Ratas, who has dismissed the secretary general, has sent a signal to the Estonian authorities: if you see dark and illicit acts, be quiet. Otherwise, heads will role," Saar said, according to ERR.
"Unfortunately, prime minister Ratas is maintaining the same line that began with the introduction of the EKRE into the government: Estonia is increasingly distancing itself from the existing values and the rule of law," he added.
At the same time, Jüri Ratas, who is subordinate to the dictatorship of EKRE, once again demonstrated that he is the lover of the prime ministerial office, Saar added.
Editor: Andrew Whyte