State Secretary Taimar Peterkop told ERR's Otse uudistemajast online program that having an apolitical body of state officials has benefited Estonia.
"It seems this model has benefited us," Peterkop said.
"I see great value in having an apolitical officialdom. I believe we have served politicians well," he added.
Talking about the politicization of secretaries general, Peterkop said it comes with risks. "These positions would then go to politicians who failed to get a mandate from the people and who are found jobs one level down so to speak. What effect this will have on the quality of administration in this country remains to be seen," Peterkop said.
The state secretary said that politicization of officials could negatively impact civil service and require it to be built up from scratch after every elections.
Peterkop also commented on Illar Lemetti's release from office, saying that while dismissing a secretary general if their cooperation with the minister is unsuccessful should not be a problem, more was at play in the case of Lemetti and former rural affairs minister Mart Järvik.
"Estonia is not a country of officials"
Asked whether Estonia is a country of officials, Peterkop said it definitely isn't.
"It surely is not. The makeup of our country sees it run by politicians. Even the question has become ridiculous."
Host Toomas Sildam asked Peterkop how it made him feel to have to investigate the situation at the Ministry of Rural Affairs. Peterkop described his feelings as mixed. "There was anxiety about an official having to evaluate the actions of ministers. On the other hand, times are complicated, and it is always exciting to do something for the first time."
Even though EKRE chairman Mart Helme said during the government press conference last Thursday that he fully trusts the committee of State Secretary Taimar Peterkop (tasked with analyzing Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik's scandals – ed.), he had changed his tune by Monday when said that the report is wrong when it comes to Järvik having exceeded his commission. "Peterkop's committee drew a one-sided conclusion based on the materials it used," Helme said. "I do not doubt his (Peterkop's – ed.) impartiality, while I do perceive the cast of mind and logic of an Estonian state official who has too much influence," Helme said in summary.
"Perhaps it concerned the final part of our report that treats with a minister's jurisdiction, its limits. As a positive person, I would turn this into a lesson for acknowledging the limits of the power of officials and politicians. The Government of the Republic Act states that a minister decides matters in their administrative area unless the law states otherwise. What happened at the rural affairs ministry concerned two areas. There is state supervision where agencies have been given an independent role and there is allocation of European subsidies," Peterkop said in comment.
Peterkop: Lemetti told me about suspicious activities in August
Peterkop said that Illar Lemetti came to see him in August and talked about attempts to interfere with claims for the return of European subsidies over violations handled by the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA). This led Peterkop to believe not everything was done by the book at the rural affairs ministry.
Peterkop said that the information reached Prime Minister Jüri Ratas.
"I consulted with my people, the prime minister and the administrative area of the Ministry of Justice, with the case finally landing in the prosecutor's office," Peterkop said.
Peterkop said that while Lemetti followed his conscience, tactically speaking, his letter to the press should have been preceded by a visit to the PM. "But I generally understand why he did what he did," the state secretary said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski