Prime Minister Jüri Ratas says that he could not have allowed the management crisis that had engulfed the Ministry of Rural Affairs to continue, meaning the ministry's secretary general had to be released from his post, in addition to the minister himself. Ratas also denied that the developments represented any pattern.
Speaking on ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera Monday evening, Ratas said that: "I could not have let the management crisis continue in the Ministry of Rural Affairs. The secretary general (Illar Lemetti-ed.) was released due to a lack of cooperation between thim and the minister (Mart Järvik-ed.). A signal of trust going forward was also needed, and I released the minister because of my lack of confidence in him."
When asked whether Illar Lemetti, the ministry's secretary general, who first drew attention to alleged conflict of interest involving Järvik earlier in November, should have simply gone a long with the perceived misdeeds, Ratas said certainly not.
"The Estonian administration is competent, professional and cannot go any further with any activities that are contrary to law, which are illegal. On the contrary, they must confront them," Ratas continued.
"What could he [Lemetti] have done? He could have been sure to inform the Secretary of State (Taimar Peterkop-ed.), the Prime Minister, and Lemetti did also take these steps," Ratas continued.
"However, it is also clear that the secretary general must ensure that cooperation within the ministry and with the minister remains calm and productive. I have no argument today to say that Lemetti could never be employed in the civil service, but today we needed to remove this management crisis and move on from here," he added.
As to the question whether Lemetti had in fact been a victim, Ratas said that that was true, adding that both he and the minister had been removed from their posts.
Ratas also rejected claims that the move was setting a precedent for having state officials who keep their mouths shut for political reasons.
"Certainly not [the case]. I said today in my press release that officials can and should speak up. They must speak directly to politicians, they must also speak publicly where it is needed. Under no circumstances can we build a country where we have to gag anyone," Ratas continued.
"However, the issue was one of cooperation. There was no such cooperation, and this was a problem both inside and outside the ministry, so this was the right management decision that was made today, between myself and the government," Ratas said.
On being asked to reflect on his own position's difference with that of President Kersti Kaljulaid, who publicly apologized to Lemetti on behalf of the country on Monday afternoon, Ratas said that: "Every moment I think of the Estonian state, its future, the people of the Estonian state and also the authorities, I think it is the best point that we have had very good cooperation, [during] my last three years working with officials in different ministries, and the state chancellery. Certainly this will continue."
"Today's case certainly cannot and must not be repeated.This would also be unfair. Once again, I have always said that I consider the Estonian authorities to be professional and I will certainly support them," Ratas went on.
When asked about proposals from interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) and finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) that the civil service law should be changed to transform a state of officials into one of politicians, Ratas said that changes to the law itself were up for discussion, but no agreement on changing the law or any direction that that might take had been reached.
"I understand that you are talking about a draft amendment to the civil service law. The Civil Service Act has been amended in various configurations; this can be discussed. There is certainly no agreement that we are going to change it, and certainly no agreement in what direction we might change it," Ratas said.
"I don't think the role of the prime minister is to suffer," Ratas continued, when asked by presenter Astrid Kannel how long he was going to continue suffering in his role.
"[The prime minister's job] is a great honor. It is certainly a responsibility, and it is of course a matter of solving different issues. I am ready for it today, if I have the confidence of the Riigikogu. And I think today's coalition has done a lot of correct and good things, be it on climate policy, education policy, or social policy," Ratas said.
When asked if things were going to calk down or whether people should look out for the next controversy, Ratas said that:
"I do my best to live peacefully and without scandals and without intimidation. But I have found that in practice, over the past three years, that worries, sometimes scandals [can happen], there is nothing to be done, but these always come with government, and need to be resolved."
The original Aktuaalne kaamera segment (in Estonian) is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte