Prime minister may have instructed removal of ministry secretary general

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Kaja Kallas in the Vikerraadio studio.
Kaja Kallas in the Vikerraadio studio. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The chain of command leading to the dismissal of the secretary general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, announced Monday, seems to have moved full circle, with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) saying she instructed State Secretary Taimar Peterkop to actually call the bureaucrat, Marika Priske, Friday to tell her she was in effect fired. According to Estonian law, the decision is the State Secretary's to make.

Peterkop's phone call was accompanied in turn by a formal proposal by two ministers – one of whom, health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) has been under fire over the ministry's handling of the vaccination program and the coronavirus situation as a whole – to release Priske from office. This proposal would end up where it in effect started, with the head of government, Kaja Kallas.

Kallas told ERR's radio news Tuesday that had she dismissed Marika Priske herself, this would have set a new precedent, since people occupying such posts had not been removed on the prime minister's say-so.

"I can't say it was my proposal. I want things to work. With those who are responsible for these issues, I point things out, I try to make things move. We have others responsible for all issues. The Prime Minister cannot go into detail either, to do the work in another arena. All areas have their own people, and the Prime Minister is responsible for the bigger picture," Kallas told ERR.

In this case, Kallas said, the responsible person was State Secretary Taimar Peterkop, whom she said she contacted, to instruct him to inform Priske of her imminent dismissal on Friday.

The law states that the State Secretary, who should presumably be acting alone, is responsible for removing a ministry secretary general if the relevant minister or ministers request it.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, Priske also said that she had heard of her being released from her post, which she had held almost exactly seven years, from the State Secretary on Friday.

Nonetheless, the prime minister also said that ultimately the decision was down to the two ministers working with Priske – health minister Tanel Kiik and social protection minister Signe Riisalo (Reform).

"The decision can be made by the Minister of Social Security and the Minister of Health and Labor, who share the secretary general [at the Ministry of Social Affairs]. This is their joint decision," Kallas said, adding that it was true that she had not been happy with the management at the ministry.

"The fact that I have not been satisfied with the work of the management of the Ministry of Social Affairs, I have also talked to the Minister of Health and Labor all the time, and it is certainly no surprise. But the final decision is made by these ministers together. "

The ministry announced Monday that Kiik and Riisalo would be approaching the government to request Priske's release, a move which prompted opposition MPs to say that she was being forced to fall on her sword in order for Tanel Kiik to stay put in his role.

Section 55 of the Government of the Republic Act states that the government appoints and dismisses a ministry's secretary general at the proposal of the minister(s), on the bases prescribed in the Public Service Act (link in Estonian), and after hearing the opinion of the State Secretary.

Kallas: Soomere has capability to represent Estonia on the international stage

During the same interview with Vikerraadio, Kallas said that she believed that presidential candidate Tarmo Soomere was capable of representing Estonia internationally even as he has no real experience in that fieeld.

"Tarmo Soomere speaks both English and German and is definitely capable of learning, Kallas, whose party, together with coalition partner Center, met with Soomere Monday by way of presentation of his candidacy, said.

Kallas, who was not present at Monday's meeting, said that she had seen nothing which suggest Soomere's contacts with any scientists from Russia or China would compromise his candidacy.

Prime minister: No reason to disbelieve culture minister on vaccination

The interview also dealt with the fallout from remarks made by culture minister Anneli Ott (Center) regarding coronavirus vaccines.

Ott said that getting vaccinated should be a matter of personal choice, and would not divulge whether she had had a vaccine or not.

Kallas rejected former Reform prime minister, and current MEP Andrus Ansip's claims that Ott should leave office.

"Well, Andrus Ansip is always tougher in his words than he is in his actions," she said, asking for any examples of times when Ansip had removed a minister during his administrations.

Kallas added that Ott said her doctor's advice had been not to obtain a vaccination at this point for health reasons, stating that she had no reason to doubt Ott, who, Kallas said, followed the government line on this and other issues.

Kallas herself only received her first COVID-19 shot last week, but this was the result of her contracting the virus back in March. In that case, doctors recommend waiting around six months from recovery, before getting inoculated.

This article was updated to include Kallas' remarks on Tarmo Soomere's presidential candidacy, and on Anneli Ott's vaccination statements and their aftermath.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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