The politicization of the Appointment Committee, which selects members of supervisory boards of state-owned companies, triggered a heated debate Wednesday in the Riigikogu between Reform Party politicians and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas.
On January 9, at the proposal of Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE), the Estonian government appointed four new members to the Appointment Committee for the next four years. Two members were from the political parties EKRE, Argo Luude, and Isamaa, Reet Roos.
The committee was established by a government order in January 2017 specifically to keep politics out of businesses' supervisory boards, and those who are members are expected to have impeccable reputations.
Since then, questions of whether or not the committee has become politicized have been asked by politicians and the media.
Chairman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas said in a question to Ratas on Wednesday that the decision to politicize the Appointment Committee (nimetamiskomitee) was taken when Luude and Roos were made members.
"Finance Minister Martin Helme does not even conceal that this is the government's goal, because he believes the government must have political control over the activities of state-owned companies," Kallas said.
Ratas replied that only two of the four new members of the Appointment Committee are from political parties. Ratas also said before his previous government took power in 2016, the Reform Party had been in power for 17 years, and members of the Council of State-owned Enterprises were largely set up by agreement between party secretaries-general.
Reform Party member Jürgen Ligi said Ratas' answer was shameless. "You are prime minister by title, but you cannot get through those four years by blaming your predecessors. It's shameless. Saying the secretaries-general appointed members of the council is a rumor. Maybe it is what your party does," Ligi said.
Kallas said that if the government wants to politicize the committee and the choices it makes, why have a committee at all?
Ratas countered by saying that Kallas was putting words in his mouth, suggesting the prime minister would support the politicization of the committee.
"Do you want to go back to the principles of the Reform Party? There were a lot of problematic cases back then, like that of Port of Tallinn. It was a very bad and problematic example and a push to change the appointment system," said Ratas.
Ligi said Ratas was giving a single example from several years ago and using it as though it had been applied as a rule.
Social Democrat Riina Sikkut asked the prime minister what he thought about finance minister Mart Helme's decision to send former Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik to the board of the Rural Development Foundation (MES). A former minister who the prime minister did not have confidence in.
Ratas said finance minister Martin Helme considered Järvik fit and that he trusted his decision.
"I am not saying that I do not trust Mart Järvik as a member of the MES Council. He worked as a minister as well as he could and did. /.../ This was a proposal from the Minister of Finance and does not require a government decision. And to preempt your next question, do I trust the Minister of Finance, yes, I trust him," Ratas said.
Editor: Helen Wright