President apologizes to Lemetti

President Kersti Kaljulaid accepted the resignation of Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik on Monday evening and apologized to government official Illar Lemetti, who was released from his position earlier in the day.

Kaljulaid did not want to talk about Järvik in her address to the media, but apologized to Lemetti, the former secretary general of the Ministry of Rural Affairs.

"I don't want to talk about Mart Järvik today at all. I also don't want to talk about Illar Lemetti any more than to apologize to him for how his country has treated him today," the president said.

"What I want to talk about is that by today's decision, all the people who, in one way or another, serve our country, our own Estonia, have learned that if they defend the rule of law, follow ethics and oaths, to the government of the republic it is simply a management problem," she added.

Kaljulaid said Lemetti was made part of a political trade and that this behavior must not become a pattern.

"It is unacceptable for a top official in a country that has highlighted ministerial incompetence and potential corruption to play a role in a political trade-off. If such behavior becomes a pattern, we all have cause for concern. With today's decision, the Republic's government has made its own problem and that of a minister a problem for society as a whole, and I find it deeply incomprehensible and unacceptable."

An ERR journalist asked Kaljulaid whether the release of Lemetti would begin an era of officials who simply acted as mouth-pieces, as opposition parties said was happening. The President replied that she would ensure that this did not happen.

"The chancellor defended the country from the arbitrariness of politicians. And, formally and legally, it is certainly possible to justify today's move. Likewise, the chancellor certainly took steps that may have been dubious to anyone," said Kaljulaid.

"This concern has also been expressed to me today. It has been voiced by top officials in our country. In fact, not just today, but in anticipation of the decision to be made by the chancellor who protects the country from the arbitrariness of politicians," she added.

The president told reporters that she would put it to both the government and the Riigikogu that Lemetti's dismissal would not create a similar pattern for other officials.

"The Riigikogu has all the tools needed in this country to prevent this from happening. The Riigikogu holds the office posts of the ministers of the Government of the Republic, keeping them in office. All these tools are within the Riigikogu," said Kaljulaid.

On Monday morning, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) proposed the dismissal of Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE). Ratas said that Järvik has caused significant problems with his words, actions and in some cases inaction, and has made it extremely difficult for the public, government partners and himself to further co-operate.

The government also decided in the morning at an extraordinary session of the government to release Lemetti on the proposal of the Minister of Rural Affairs and in the absence of cooperation. "In the current climate of tension and mistrust, the government saw no option but for both senior leaders to leave the ministry," Ratas said. 

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 inquiry finding he had exceeded his authority in the PRIA case 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.

The original press conference (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright

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