Former Justice Minister Maris Lauri (Reform) finds that while former trade union chief, Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE) can remain in office, he needs to trad carefully as a former lobbyist.
Estonia's lobbying good practice was introduced by the Reform Party's Maris Lauri who said the document was thoroughly debated by politicians at the time. When former head of the Estonian Trade Unions Federation Peep Peterson became minister for labor, the fact there could be a possible conflict of interest was pointed out by journalists but overlooked by ministers and the Government Office.
"It is sad on the one hand. Clearly, people think it is no big deal and something that shouldn't be paid any mind. But it most definitely should," the previous government's justice minister told ERR.
What is the problem? Head of the coalition Social Democratic Party (SDE) Lauri Läänemets suggested the problem is with the lobbying good practice instead. He suggested that the trade unions head is not a lobbyists but rather a social partner representing everyone in Estonia. Maris Lauri disagrees.
"We are absolutely dealing with lobbyists. Just as business associations are lobby organizations, so it is in the case of trade unions. There can be no two ways about it. Whether someone is [also] a social partner or how many people they represent is besides the point," Lauri said.
According to the good practice, a lobbyist should steer clear of political decisions concerning those whose interests they have represented for at least a year. How would that be possible in the post of labor minister.
"He does not have to resign. But caution and a keen eye for the rules are necessary. [He needs to] be careful, report his meetings and avoid situations open to malicious interpretation," Lauri said.
The former justice minister said that Peterson should be extra careful when adding entries to the lobby register. Explain who he meets and why. Situations where the other side is a trade union are especially precarious. For example, the minister is usually not involved in minimum wage discussions.
"I perceive risk in certain debates. For example, healthcare also falls in the minister's administrative area. There can be sharp debates between, for example, the Estonian Hospital Association and the Estonian Medical Association. He [Peterson] must not get involved under any circumstances. Someone else will have to diffuse these conflicts. He can be in the loop, but he cannot participate," Lauri warned.
Former President Kersti Kaljulaid criticized Peterson becoming health and labor minister during the weekend but aimed the brunt of it at Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform).
"It is time to put the [previous] government's lobbying good practice to the test and solve a problem where ministerial posts are given to people who have previously represented a certain interest group or view in the same field. A good place to attach meaning to the good practice and for the PM to demonstrate how the new ministers plan to manage their conflicts of interest in a transparent fashion. Lobbying and faceted advocacy aren't bad things my any means, while ignoring potential conflicts of interest leads to decisions that make the person doubt the trustworthiness of authority. And that would be unfortunate indeed," Kaljulaid wrote on Facebook.
Editor: Marcus Turovski