Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise says that Illar Lemetti, who was released from his post as rural affairs ministry secretary general on Monday, could find help in his court case by the fact that the rural affairs minister Mart Järvik was also relieved of his post, almost simultaneously, and that non-cooperation – the grounds for Lemetti's release – was complicated by the duty Lemetti had both to report anything that seemed like potential wrongdoing, as well as it being difficult to argue that not complying with wrongdoing itself constitutes non-cooperation. Madise also pointed to wider implications in the incident, which she said meant the minister/civil servant relationship had been practically flipped.
Speaking on ERR's Vikerhommik show Tuesday morning, Madise said that: "This is one aspect which could help Lemetti."
Mart Järvik had been pushing for Lemetti's release on the grounds of non-cooperation. This reached governmental assent on Monday morning, but shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) was announcing Järvik's release as well.
"So now, that minister is no longer in the position with which the cooperation was not working. And since, for example, [former rural affairs minister] Tarmo Tamm, a Centre Party member, said that his cooperation (with Lemetti - ed.) worked very well, and I understand that [another former rural affairs minister] Urmas Kruuse from the Reform Party was satisfied [with Lemetti], [former minister for agriculture] Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), who worked with Mr Lemetti when he was a deputy secretary general - I understand he was pleased too [with Lemetti] - so it cannot be ruled out that the next minister would similarly have worked well. Litigation is possible," Madise said.
Soon after the announcement that he would be released from his post, Lemetti, who had drawn attention to alleged conflict of interest at the rural affairs ministry, said that he would be going to court.
On Lemetti's release, Ratas said that Järvik himself had caused significant problems with his words, actions and in some cases inaction, and had made it extremely difficult for the public, government partners and himself to further co-operate.
"Second, reporting corruption is not a right, but an obligation," Madise went on.
"Anti-corruption law says that an official may not, if, for example, on learning that action restrictions have been violated - and the prosecution seems to suggest that an investigation is under way - that he or she has not the right to know it, rather he or she has a duty to report it," Madise told ERR.
"The cooperation between the minister and the secretary general should be dignified and lawful, and certainly it cannot be said that a failure to cooperate could result from a secretary general refusing to comply with illegal orders or contravening the rules of ethics of an official," Madise went on.
"On the contrary, the secretary general must comply with the law, has to ensure that the ministry also complies with the law, and must also ensure compliance with the ethics of officials," she continued.
In response to host Rain Kooli's question whether the secretary general was obliged to ensure the legality of a minister's actions, Madise said: "I believe the law should be interpreted that way, yes."
Madise: Increased state flexibility
Madise also said that in her view attempts to loosen the independence of officials, and polticizing them, is being justified as state reform.
"It is very bad when words and deeds contradict each other. One line of these justifications, concerning the lack of cooperation with secretary general Lemetti, was that we are undergoing state reform, and that this is where we need to become flexible. This causes alarm bells to ring," Madise said.
"Unfortunately, we have been talking about the need for a more flexible and effective state for so long - after all, we nod all along, the words seem very good. But what is behind this is actually the desire to concentrate power and politicize officials. A deprivation of power, which also means that the public will no longer be aware of certain decisions," she continued.
Politicians have also been trying to confuse what a minister does with what officials do within offices and inspectorates, she added.
"Perhaps it is trying to create a situation where the minister is dealing with individual decisions, small things, and then the officials get the big things, that is, the general arrangements for law-making and the sector."
"It is exactly the opposite way round, and it is very good that it is the other way around," Madise continued.
"The minister has a lot of work to do in order to give directions in their area of government, to explain how institutions should work across the board in an area of government; they may, for example, order their authorities to spell things out clearly, to respect their citizens, to keep to deadlines," he said.
"But a minister must not go on to say who should be given any kind of support, or who should not reclaim any illegally received support. This is not at all in the ministerial ambit," she added.
"There are independent officials recruited via a competition process (as was Lemetti-ed.), who make these decisions, decisions which themselves are subject to judicial review, not at the ministry," Madise said.
Prime Minister Juri Ratas said on Monday that Lemetti informed the government of his wish to contest the termination of his professional relationship in court.
"Estonia is a state based on the rule of law and he, of course, holds that opportunity," Ratas said.
The original Vikerraadio segment (in Estonian) is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte