Kaljulaid: Supervisory boards of Tallinn companies should be depoliticized

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Raimond Kaljulaid. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Members of supervisory boards of municipal companies in Tallinn could be proposed by a special appointments committee similarly to how it works on the central government level, Raimond Kaljulaid, Tallinn mayoral candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) says in an interview. Kaljulaid adds that Rainer Vakra leaving will not cost the Social Democrats much in terms of votes.

How goes your campaign for a nude beach in Tallinn in support of which sexual consultant Epp Kärsin and yourself made a social media post last week?

I believe you are greatly exaggerating by referring to it as a campaign. The matter has been on the agenda in North Tallinn (Põhja-Tallinn) and could be solved in a sensible fashion. How it should be taken forward remains to be seen as we have rather concentrated on snow removal and de-icing in the capital this week and analyzed whether the city could take charge of clearing sidewalks.

Is Epp Kärsin with whom you introduced the initiative and took a photo on the beach planning to join the Social Democrats and run in local elections?

As far as I am aware, Epp Kärsin is not planning on joining any party or going into politics. She is simply a bold and interesting person, which is why we teamed up for the social media post. It is great she has gotten behind the idea and I believe it is a sensible one. The topic resurfaced every summer back when I served as North Tallinn district elder. There are some whom it bothers, while others say we should regulate this matter in a sensible fashion as has been done in all major cities close to Tallinn, whether we are talking ab out Helsinki, Stockholm, Riga or Vilnius.

It is something that should definitely be pursued in the future. The technical issue there is that the Law Enforcement Act provides the decisions is up to the local government, while we still need to figure out on what level it needs to be made. Luckily, the beach season is still some time away.

Can we look forward to other cracking initiatives from you as we move closer to local elections?

Definitely. That said, 99 percent of our campaign will concern serious municipal matters and it seems today that the question of city space will take center stage. How safe and convenient is Tallinn as a city, our public spaces, sidewalks and streets, especially thinking about children, the elderly and pedestrians in general, public transport users, cyclists. I believe it will be a major topic at the upcoming elections.

Secondly – while we are still in a health crisis today, economic hardship will continue once the state and local governments overcome the former. Tallinn plays a central role in the Estonian economy. Over half of Estonia's GDP comes from the capital. Tallinn can do a lot to restore economic growth quickly and help contain unemployment, create new opportunities and jobs.

The third topic the relevance of which has been growing for years is everything to do with social services, social protection, care services. We need to seriously analyze and likely modernize this portfolio of services.

Topics you have brought to the media include a few other interesting proposals. One was the creation of the position of nighttime mayor, while you also proposed staying on top of narcotic substances associated with nightlife if I phrased it correctly.

Indeed, we have put together and will soon unveil our nightlife strategy for Tallinn that concentrates on two main ideas. One is that the entire culture and entertainment sector has been left without work as a result of coronavirus restrictions not just in Tallinn but everywhere in Estonia. Our musicians, but also concert organizers, venues, people in charge of sound and lighting. Also people working in various entertainment and cultural institutions and the service sector in general have found themselves either partly or completely out of work. We hope that the vaccination program will be realized to a sufficient degree eventually, that restrictions will be lifted and we can see outside events again in summer.

The sector needs help catching up for which purpose we have indeed put together a nightlife strategy that also treats with this topic. However, it also concentrates on availability of medical assistance at night and on weekends, maintenance of law and order etc. How to make sure people who want to sleep at night would not suffer from noise and light pollution. We take all of it seriously and find that Tallinn should have a night mayor for realizing this plan. We are also the only party to have a night mayoral candidate in Natalie Mets who is very much at home when it comes to these topics.

What about drug checks?

As concerns drugs, our program and its night strategy do not include the proposal for free testing. I gave an example in a Postimees interview (Link in Estonian – ed.) that the UK and many other European countries offer [free testing of narcotic substances] to help people make sure they are not harming themselves in night clubs or festivals. Surveys have shown that it is very effective.

But whether we should do it in Estonia… I believe that we need a broader debate on how to improve our drug prevention and awareness score first. Corresponding figures are not encouraging in Estonia. And what Tallinn could do to address drug prevention and resulting damages even more effectively. Therefore, I would not overemphasize this single idea. That said, I find the practice to be something we should consider in the future to save young lives. I believe no one is opposed to fewer drug-related deaths and health damage.

Talking about local elections in Tallinn, the Social Democrats will be facing tough opponents – first, there is the Center Party that could lose its hegemony but team up with the Reform Party that has also launched its campaign on a strong note. Do you feel confident taking the aforementioned topics to elections?

I believe the Social Democrats have a strong position when it comes to city space, matters that concern the safety and convenience of pedestrians, cyclists and other participants in traffic. Especially talking about communities interested in Tallinn giving priority to greener and environmentally friendlier modes of transport – I believe we are well received in that community. The same goes for social services or healthcare where SDE has quite a few experienced people. I believe we are capable and smart and can offer solutions that resonate with people.

I saw an interview with Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) where he said that Tallinn would get a coalition government were elections to take place tomorrow. I am less sure. I believe it would be great for Tallinn to get a coalition government to which all opposition forces must contribute, including those not represented in the council. But whether it is a given at this point… Rather, I would say we are half-way there.

Center will be going in weaker than it has been this millennium. But for a hardworking coalition government to be formed in Tallinn another precondition must be met. Both Estonian but especially Russian-speaking voters must believe that there is a credible alternative. That is where the opposition has failed in recent decades. And it seems to me that both SDE and other opposition forces still need to do a lot of work there.

I also believe that a Center-Reform coalition in Tallinn is not popular among Russian voters. There is some confusion in terms of what will happen with Russian schools. The central government's plan for Russian schools should also be explained in greater detail.

Head of the Tallinn Social Democrats Rainer Vakra's news that he will be leaving the city council and the party to run Tallinn municipal company Tallinna Soojus raised more than a few questions on Wednesday. Vakra has for years been a major vote magnet for SDE in the Nõmme borough. Will these votes go astray?

I do not think we will miss out on all of his past votes. I'm sure many residents of Nõmme have supported Vakra as someone who has been visible and stood up for the community for years and been very successful at it. However, I also feel that we have people in Nõmme and other borough who want to support the Social Democratic Party. I do not see it as all that bleak if we can come up with a strong list and program.

Could this be a ploy by Center to silence a political opponent?

As concerns Vakra going to work for Tallinna Soojus, everyone is free to choose what they do. No one is forced to spend an eternity in politics and it is completely understandable if people want to work in other fields.

Talking about the decision, you are referring to the Center Party, while they will tell you that heads of municipal companies are not picked in the party backroom. I am a Center Party board or council member and have no idea how these decisions get made. But whatever the case, I believe that supervisory boards of city companies should be comprised of people picked by a special appointments committee in the future, as it currently works on the central government level.

The fact that supervisory board seats usually belong to a single party and that [Deputy Mayor] Kalle Klandorf seems to be in charge of them all – I do not believe it is right. I believe that Tallinn should follow the example of the state in depoliticizing supervisory boards to put to bed speculation of whether positions are manned based on the best interests of the company or by the Center Party as you suggested. Should it turn out that Center is handing out executive positions in municipal companies, it would be a corruption offense and a serious allegation against Center and something law enforcement would need to investigate.

Isn't running Tallinna Soojus with its four or five employees a sinecure for Vakra?

I cannot answer that. It is something he must explain. His vision and how he plans to populate it with meaning. While I understand that the company does not have many employees, utilities is a serious and complex business. The selection process must be transparent and I'm sure representatives of the city can provide you with capable answers.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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