The outgoing education minister, Liina Kersna (Reform), worked hard to keep schools open amid rising Covid rates last autumn, and cannot be criticized for simply performing her role, Tanel Kiik (Center) who was health minister at the time, says.
In a lengthy interview which appeared on the website of daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) on Wednesday (link in Estonian), Kiik, who himself faced pressure last summer after a faulty cold storage unit led to the spoilage of thousands of Covid vaccine doses, said: "Minister Liina Kersna, as well as a large part of coalition members from both the political parties, did not necessarily want to send schools to remote learning, and solutions and discussions on how to avoid this were really being sought."
"Having myself been involved in many time-critical decisions and choices during the pandemic, I have to admit that I am not a critic of Liina Kersna on this matter. She worked hard to keep schools open at the time," Kiik went on.
That time, last autumn, coincided with the third Covid wave, and both the Health Board (Terviseamet) and the government's coronavirus advisory body, dubbed the scientific council, had both called for extending the half-term school break by a week as Covid rates rose.
This made the need to procure rapid tests, if schools were to continue functioning, all the more urgent, Kiik added.
"It is true that both the Minister of Public Administration (at the time Jaak Aab - ed.) and other parties pointed out that, although it was a very urgent procurement, several tenders must be issued and the risks were also known to the Ministry of Education," Kiiks aid.
As to whether the investigation into the procurement process by the prosecutor's office which led to Kersna's resignation was a fair one, Kiik said: "Each time a member of the Center Party begins to suspect the prosecutor's office of unfair actions, it reminds me of the times during the previous chair (Edgar Savisaar – ed.)."
"I think that the prosecutor's office is doing its job, just as minister Kersna was doing her job, at the time."
Kersna had been given the go-ahead to take the steps needed to procure the rapid test kits.
Kiik was health and labor minister from April 2019 until last month, when Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) dismissed the Center Party ministers from office.
Kersna, who is also caretaker culture minister following the exit of Tiit Terik (Center), submitted her resignation on June 30 once criminal proceedings were opened up concerning the rapid tests procurement, but Kallas declined to accept it, opting instead to wait until a new coalition was formed.
The Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition deal was agreed last Friday but has not taken office yet.
Had Kersna stepped down, the Reform-only administration would have been left with less then half the number of ministers it had originally had when the Reform/Center administration took office in January 2021. In that case, it is possible the government would, constitutionally speaking, be declared "rendered incapable", according to at least one expert.
Editor: Andrew Whyte