Education minister Mailis Reps (Center) has faced media criticism for the use of an official Ministry of Education and Research car and driver to ferry her children to or from school. Reps, who is mother to six children, does not deny the allegations, which appeared in daily Õhtuleht, but says that work considerations had often necessitated the use of the car for this purpose.
Õhtuleht says (link in Estonian) it spot checked Reps' driver's routine on three afternoons over the course of a month, adding that each time the car had been transporting the minister's children, but not her, adding video evidence to its article.
The education minister asked the media to approach her directly on the matter rather than draw her children into the limelight.
"Dear journalists, I have a sincere request to you - please do not use my smaller children for journalistic purposes, but contact me directly," Reps wrote on her social media account Tuesday evening.
"Personal attacks harm my children and can destroy their sense of security," she added.
Reps added that the schedule of the use of the car had been adjusted, for tax purposes, to allow for trips outside working hours.
"I have very long working days at the ministerial office, along with tricky logistics, which do not always allow my children to be taken from, or go to, kindergarten and school via private car. I am very grateful to my driver, who understands the situation and has coordinated steps so that I can work more effectively," she went on.
"Finding a balance between work and family life is very hard. I can attest, with my hand on my heart, that I have done my best in both roles. I am a minister 24/7, because the effective running of Estonian education is my heartfelt desire," she continued.
Reps did also conceded that she had some years ago used an official car to visit Croatia – around 2,000 km from Estonia.
A former driver for Reps told the daily that transporting Reps' children had been a regular feature of his work routine then, however, and ministry sources, albeit not those closest to the minister, told Õhtuleht such trips were daily and systematic.
Reps has also recently spoken out against closing schools too readily in the event of coronavirus infection risk, saying that schools should not act unilaterally or too hastily, but should follow Health Board (Terviseamet) regulations.
Ministry: No employees pressured to work for Reps' family.
Mart Laidmets, Ministry of Education Secretary-General, said, via a press release, that no ministry employees have been expected to work for non-official, family-related duties on behalf of the minister.
Laidmets added that the ministry has done its best to help Reps perform her duties on particularly busy days, including help with transport issues.
Laidmets said: "I must stress that in the case of this method of transport, a special fee has been paid legally and correctly, which allows for the use of the vehicle even outside working hours."
Prime minister: Reps is a dedicated minister and good mother
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) has stood by Mailis Reps, calling her a good mother and effective minister.
Ratas wrote on his social media account: "Mailis Reps is a dedicated and knowledgeable Minister of Education and Research, as many experts in the field can confirm. More than that, she is a good mother to six children, and has to reconcile work and family life within any 24-hour period, balancing work and family life. In my opinion, attacking the minister via her children and family is inappropriate."
"Mailis has given her explanations to the media and to the public. I support Mailis, and appreciate her contribution to the field of education and day-to-day support of government work," he added.
Editor: Andrew Whyte