Samost: Politicizing nomination committee worst government decision so far

Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost.
Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost. Source: ERR

Politicizing the state firms Appointments Committee (Riigifirmade nõukogu), a body which selects board members to state-owned companies, is the worst decision the coalition government has made to date, said ERR's head of news and sport Anvar Samost.

"I would say this is the most regrettable move of this government in the past eight months. While there has been some embarrassing rhetoric, there hadn't been such a bad decision," Samost said, speaking on Sunday's "Samost and Sildam" radio show.

Senior journalist Toomas Sildam added that in his opinion the coalition seems to want to gain greater control over state company boards than would be possible with an apolitical Appointments Committee.

Four new members were nominated late last week for the next three years on finance minister Martin Helme's (EKRE) proposal, according to ERR. Of these, one, Argo Luude, is a member of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and another, Reet Roos, is an Isamaa member, who was put forward by Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa). The other two are Toomas Tamsar, proposed by the Estonian Employers' Confederation (Tööandjate keskliit) and Kaido Padar, proposed by Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Minister Taavi Aas (Center).

The presenters suggested that people suitable for nomination to boards would require a lack of conflict of interest and an impeccable record in the case of re-nomination, both the 'political' candidates noted above conflict with this.

"There is a clear retrograde step in value-based terms. By the same parties that created the nomination committee three years ago," Samost said, referring to then-Minister of Finance, Sven Sester (Isamaa, or IRL as it was called at the time-ed.).

Sildam also recalled that the government led by Reform Party member Taavi Rõivas collapsed in autumn 2016, immediately after IRL and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) ministers recalled Reform Party politicians from these state-owned enterprise boards, leaving Reform without representatives on those boards.

"I'm surprised that the Center Party did this. Not so much with EKRE, since their top politicians have repeatedly complained that they have no control over high officials," Sildam noted. 

Samost concurred, saying that EKRE had been highly critical of the perceived practice of parties looking after their own.

"Obviously, we now need to start monitoring every nomination committee decision. [But] was this mess needed, and if so, for what?" Samost asked.

Long-term resident's comment

Commenting on the development, commentator, observer and long-time Estonian resident Dario Cavegn questioned how realistic arriving at a wholly impartial, independent board for nominating officials to companies actually was, if committee members were also to be experts in their fields, partly because of the size of the country, and partly because such a committee cannot accurately reflect the interests of the populace as a whole.

"First off, this is Estonia, a country of 1.3 million, where the lion's share of elected and appointed officials as well as business people share their alma mater and sit in the same fraternities and sororities," Cavegn told ERR News.

"There is no such thing as independence in this country: it's simply too small for it."

"Second, a naming committee made up of experts is an ideologically 'professionalist' body. Given that 70 percent of Estonian citizens don't hold a degree, and that we are talking about companies owned by the public, this means that at least in principle, an expert committee can't represent the economic interests of well over half the nation," he added.

Cavegn also noted that, on the contrary, the politicization of the committee via the mores of leading members of the three coalition parties was a starting point, moving towards accountability to the legislature, rather than an endpoint to be retreated from.

"Politicizing the naming committee in fact doesn't go far enough. As it plays a decisive role in the administration of assets owned by the public, it should be made up exclusively of elected officials. It should be made subject to parliament, and represent the proportional make-up of the Riigikogu," he said.

Members of the business community, as well as opposition politicians such as Jevgeni Ossinovski, have recently criticized the drift towards political appointees on state boards.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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