Education minister: I have to get the work-life balance better

Mailis Reps talking to ERR Tuesday lunchtime.
Mailis Reps talking to ERR Tuesday lunchtime. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Education minister has promised to get on top of the work-life balance and has apologized to anyone whose sense of propriety has been offended following an article on evening paper Õhtuleht's website which revealed an education ministry car was used on three separate occasions to transport some of her six children.

Appearing on a Postimees TV live broadcast Wednesday, Reps noted the issue was of public interest, and that the recent, higher-level use of the ministry's car had been spurred on by a recent coalition crisis, work on the pending state budget and the coronavirus pandemic.

"This situation has evolved over time," Reps, who divorced from the father of her children, a Latvian lawyer, in early 2019, told Postimees TV.

"I have not succeeded in combining work time and family life well," she went on, apologizing for letting her driver volunteer to help out with the children at a particularly busy time.

"That I am a single mother and have six children is no excuse," Reps went on, promising to be sure to balance the work as a government minister with doing the school run.

Reiterating comments she had made earlier in the day to ERR, Reps said that there had been no legal infringement.

"When it comes to substance, things are different, and I have no justification, nothing more is permitted to me. I definitely offer my apologies for offending people's sense of justice," the Center Party minister said.  

While independent MP Raimond Kaljulaid – a former Center Party member who now sits with the opposition Social Democratic Party at the Riigikogu – has called for Reps' resignation, the latter repeated what she had told ERR, that adjustments should be made when issues get in the way of her main job as minister.

"The criticism is absolutely understandable, as the job of a minister is very demanding, especially at a time when there is a crisis due to the coronavirus and also when the state budget drafting process is underway. However, there are quieter periods too, and seeking a balance is something that every one of us must try to do," Reps said.

The Õhtuleht report contained video evidence of the three times Reps car had been seen transporting children, and not her, which the paper said it gathered by following her, or more accurately the car's, movements over the course of a month.

Anecdotal evidence from sources including a previous driver said that the practise of using the car for collecting and dropping off her children at school and kindergarten was long-standing, and that the car had even journeyed as far as Croatia.

Mailis Reps is several years into her third stint as education minister, which began in 2016. She previously served in the role 2005-2007 under Andrus Ansip's (Reform) premiership and in 2002-2003, when Siim Kallas (Reform) was prime minister.

Õhtuleht editor-in-chief: Nothing ethically wrong with the article

Editor-in-chief Martin Šmutov has rejected claims that the article, which published online Tuesday evening, breaches any ethics standard.

Reps in her initial response to the piece, on her social media account, had hit out at her children, some of whom are visible in the photos, being drawn into the maelstrom.

Šmutov told ERR that Reps' children and other minors appearing in the photos are blurred out, as was the driver, adding that in today's atmosphere of fake news accusations, some sort of proof of the claims was necessary, in order to avoid such a charge.

"To demonstrate that the misuse [of the ministry car] was taking place, you have to be able to prove it," Šmutov said.

All ethical aspects of the piece were throroughly discussed at editorial board level at Õhtuleht, he added, noting that negative responses had been anticipated.

"We were expecting two types of response. The first was one that children were being used, which it is very bad. The second was that a single mother was being attacked," he said, noting that neither criticism addresses the issue at the heart of the matter, being rather emotionally charged instead.

Šmutov also said that tangentially, the issue of difficulties facing single parents and their need for state support could also be considered, but that this was not the point of the exercise.

"This is not about the problem we are writing about. What we are writing about is corruption, which is that the minister is being devious and has lied," he said.

"What is key is that there is a minister of the Republic of Estonia who is lying. And we are stating this clearly. After that, we can discuss the situation of single mothers in Estonia, and we can also talk about any other issues."


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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