State cannot be ordered to work remotely

Riigikogu sitting lasted just 13 minutes.
Riigikogu sitting lasted just 13 minutes.

A call in the press for the Riigikogu to work remotely sees sworn lawyer Allar Jõks warn: The price of the crisis cannot be democracy quarantined.

The constitution is not under quarantine, even in an emergency situation.

"The constitution remains in effect," is the full quote from Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise.

This means that Estonia is still a parliamentary country. Our parliament is called the Riigikogu.

Members of the Riigikogu are trying to keep from catching the coronavirus, which is entirely understandable. They are prepared to avoid the Riigikogu floor, content to have a single representative from each faction, with committee sittings held over video link.

That is a questionable idea.

It is unthinkable for MPs not to ask PM Jüri Ratas, who is also in charge of the emergency situation in Estonia, all necessary and relevant questions during Wednesday's Question Time. This would constitute MPs having failed their constituents.

Only having the five faction chairmen on the floor would come off ridiculous. Hospitals cannot rely on unit managers, police on prefecture commanders, the Rescue Board on commando chiefs or the border guard on cordon commanders alone.

A state cannot be ordered to work remotely

The government is putting together a package of economic measures to alleviate the disastrous effects of the crisis. What is the role of the remotely working Riigikogu in discussing these proposals?

Several government initiatives require laws to be amended, while several of these are of fundamental significance. For example, the government borrowing or suspending II pension pillar payments, while the law that has been vetoed by the president is making its way to the Supreme Court as we speak. Of course, the government could be wise enough to immediately involve people with crisis experience from the opposition and the Bank of Estonia, instead of arrogantly kick-starting the coalition's steamroller.

The parliament also cannot distance itself and say that the government should be the one to take responsibility for the emergency situation it declared.

And what if Allar Jõks is even partially right when he writes in the Tuesday issue of Äripäev that current legislation does not allow for quarantine to be imposed in the case of the COVID-19 virus as the law does not consider it an extremely dangerous infectious disease? Will the Riigikogu legal affairs and constitutional committees discuss which laws should be amended or adjusted if that turns out be the case and how? The Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act would be the place to start.

Democracy itself would be quarantined if self-isolation of MPs would turn into self-removal.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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