Secretary General of the Ministry of the Interior Lauri Lugna says the recent release of his counterpart at the rural affairs ministry, Illar Lemetti, will not set a precedent for the intimidation of officials or their acting as a politicians' mouthpiece.
Speaking on ETV magazine show Ringvaade Tuesday evening, Lugna said that Monday had not been a happy day for him and his colleagues, when Lemetti's release was announced.
"Illar Lemetti was a good colleague and we will remember that," Lugna said.
At the same time, he added that the officials feel strongly about the current situation.
"As far as doing the job, I'd say maybe, contrary to what the press says, that the civil service is coming to act as a mouthpiece, or being compliant, the civil service feels strongly that it has something to give to society and politicians," he said.
Lemetti was removed from his post after calls for that to happen from outgoing rural affairs minister Mart Järvik met a favorable response from the government. However, Järvik himself was released from office the same day, leading to calls that Lemetti had been sacrificed at a political altar. Järvik had been pushing for Lemetti's removal ever since the latter blew the whistle on what he saw as irregularities in Järvik's actions towards an EU subsidy fraud case which involved a body under the ministry's remit.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) met with ministry secretaries general on Tuesday and, according to Lugna, it was agreed that should any secretary general, also referred to as chancellors, in the future have suspicions of possible corruption in the ministry, they should take this to their boss – i.e. the minister, as well as Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop, and Ratas himself.
"I assure you, all Estonian chancellors and senior executives in the public sector are in favor of the rule of law, and this is a zero-tolerance policy against illegal activities," Lugna added.
Lugna also felt that Lemetti could have done things differently, in his opinion including speaking to and discussing things more with his colleagues.
"But we acknowledge that the situation that got to this point was a difficult one," Lugna qualified.
As to the question whether Lemetti's dismissal impinged on his, Lugna's, sense of justice, Lugna noted this was also not black and white.
"This is a difficult situation. It is undeniable. It is not common in the Estonian public administration for decisions like the one made yesterday. That is also why we met with the prime minister today, where we could discuss, ask what the prime minister's direction is. In this we found a common language and found that the prime minister 's expectations were clear to us," Lugna continued.
"It is my feeling that the civil service is resolved, and has not been intimidated or otherwise gagged," Lugna added, noting that he had had good cooperation with his minister, Mart Helme (EKRE), necessary for fulfilling his role. Non-cooperation was the grounds for Järvik's calls for Lemetti's dismissal. Jüri Ratas added Tuesday that Lemetti, who is facing popular support on social media as a potential citizen of the year following a video placed by Ratas, had declined to attend a governmental meeting to discuss the issues prior to his dismissal.
The original Ringvaade segment is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte