Opposition MPs have hit out at health minister Tanel Kiik's calls to fire his ministry's Secretary General, Marika Priske, calling it a scapegoating move in order to save Kiik's position. Kiik and fellow minister Signe Riisalo, are proposing the removal of Priske, who held the post since 2014. Kiik had been facing searching questions from the prime minister over his handling of the national vaccine program.
Hele-Moonika Helme (EKRE), ERR reports, told daily Postimees that: "Priske has been, in terms of officialdom, in this position forever... What has happened now is bad, whereas, in fact, there are several more people at the Ministry of Social Affairs who should be responsible for the negligence."
"[Former social affairs ministry undersecretary] Maris Jesse had already been told that she had to leave, to demonstrate that changes were taking place. Jesse could have worked for Priske as an adviser for as long as she had wanted. At the same time, no one is taking political responsibility," Helme went on.
Maris Jesse recently stepped down after her term expired; she did not seek a second term.
"It is remarkable that both Kiik and Riisalo made a proposal - this is the price agreed between the coalition partners," Helme added.
Kiik and social protection minister Signe Riisalo (Reform) are jointly making a proposal to the government to remove Priske, who had been in the post since August 2014.
Priske had been the focus of an earlier controversy back in January, when she was charged with having jumped the coronavirus vaccine wait line.
Isamaa Riigikogu group chair Priit Sibul said he had been surprised by the decision, which he called logically inconsistent.
Sibul said: "This is surprising, in this context; I don't know if there is a reason to look for a culprit, but when looking at the situation, many people should perhaps take a look in the mirror."
"Today's decision is like something from an opera. The minister's decisions and views are neither consistent nor comprehensible. There is no logical order in these decisions when looking at decisions made at the ministry level," Sibul added.
Leader of the third opposition party, the Social Democrats (SDE) Indrek Saar took a similar line.
Saar said: "If there has been growing criticism in society for some time about the performance of one minister, it is very logical that, in order to avoid a vote of no-confidence in a minister's mistrust, a civil servant should take the hit."
"Classic," Saar added.
"Ultimately, a minister is responsible for the work done. It seems to me that, given that we have fallen asleep the a second summer in a row, and are on a very bad course with our health situation, I would ask rhetorically: Is it not too late to take prisoners?" he went on.
Marika Priske: Announcement a surprise, but I will go along with it for sake of ministry and my team
Priske herself said Monday that she hoped her imminent departure would lead to a peaceful situation within the ministry, adding that her team ought to be noted for its successes as well as the criticism, about which there is much to be said: "But this crisis came as a great surprise to everyone, and the first reaction from all authorities was that everything which pertains to the word 'COVID', in whatever field it happens to be, is to be managed and carried by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
"The Ministry of Social Affairs was certainly not ready for it, and that is definitely not conceivable in the country as a whole. I would have preferred it if this 'coming to the rescue' [of Kiik] had been more constructive, not just simple charges that 'if you can't do it, then we will'," Priske told ERR.
Priske said that nonetheless she accepted the decision, despite it coming as a surprise, and the need for some fresh blood at the ministry
"At this point in time, I really want to defend and acknowledge my people, and for their benefit, I am always ready to resign or agree to leave."
The vaccination program and the overall coronavirus strategy itself, she said, had not been a total failure.
"Over 600,000 have received a vaccine, we have managed to cope with moderate restrictions, we have introduced wage subsidies, we have carried out more non-COVID tasks from the government's work plan than any other ministry," Priske went on.
Editor: Andrew Whyte