Draft law would bar ministers from working in same field for one year

Jüri Ratas and Janek Mäggi at Centre Party headquarters in Tallinn on election night.
Jüri Ratas and Janek Mäggi at Centre Party headquarters in Tallinn on election night. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Justice has drawn up a draft law in accordance to European Union recommendations that would bar an outgoing minister from working in leading positions in the field of their former ministry. This change would not however rule out lobbying.

When building his last government, Jüri Ratas called up the owner of communications firm Powerhouse Janek Mäggi to become his public administration minister. This hire created many questions in the public, asking if perhaps Mäggi had represented some of his colleagues while being a minister himself.

After his stint in government, Mäggi returned to his old position straight away and hired a handful of previous ministers as lobbyists, such as three-time minister Marko Pomerants and former interior minister Andrus Anvelt earlier this year. Former ministers are lobbying Chinese technology giant Huawei and Philip Morris' tobacco products in government and see no issue in it.

Powerhouse lobbyist and three-time minister Marko Pomerants said: "If there is a restriction and you are told to not work in the field that you know well, I think that is a cost to the taxpayer - taxpayers should pay for that."

Among all those in Riigikogu, the long-time Isamaa minister also speaks about Huawei with people in the Isamaa Riigikogu bloc. "I speak to all party representatives in Estonian politics. I do not pick and choose. There is nothing to choose in a country such as Estonia. And it would make no sense if I did not talk to Isamaa's people at all," Pomerants said.

The draft law, based on EU recommendations, would see that a minister cannot be on the board of directors at a company in their field.

Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) told ERR: "This means that there would be a situation where a minister during his time - using his position, his power - would not be able to prepare for the future in a bad way. The minister would also not be able to receive a cushy position on a board right after his position is out. Ministry related lobby work is also considered - ministers would not be allowed to lead or own a company that deals with lobbying."

So a career like Pomerants' would not be in any danger - it took longer than a year until he became a lobbyist and he is only an adviser for Powerhouse. The case of Janek Mäggi however would not be legal going forward.

Andreas Kaju, partner at Meta Advisory, points out a weakness of the new law: "But they (an outgoing minister - ed.) can go work as an adviser, specialist, lobby director or whoever. This law is more about checking a box off."

Kaju added that he thinks the problem has not actually been dealt with. He considers conflict of interest an even greater problem in politics, one that can only be solved with more transparent lobby work.

"It is not possible to sit on two chairs - deal in politics by speaking on behalf of your business partners and at the same time deal with policy making. We actually have all the prerequisites today to make lobbying completely transparent. I mean the most accessible solution, making the guest book of all ministries and the Riigikogu web-based and available to everyone, so we could see who does what daily," Kaju said.

Justice minister Aeg however is on the fence about the proposal. "I would not want to barge into Riigikogu's right of self-determination. The Riigikogu will have to decide at what capacity they will manage this registry of lobbyists and at what conditions and regulations," he said.

Aeg however promises that the government will discuss the EU recommendation of setting up a lobbyist registry. Most EU countries have already set theirs up, unlike Estonia.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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