Minister: My candidacy as ECA representative was processed correctly
Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus' (Reform) candidacy as Estonia's next representative at the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has been conducted in accordance with the rules, the government office says.
The minister herself told ERR's Indrek Kiisler, in an interview which follows, that she cannot comment on claims that the process violated rules regarding corruption.
Kiisler: When exactly did the Reform Party make the decision that you would be presented to the government as a potential candidate as ECA representative?
Pentus-Rosimannus: The choice and decision was finally made by party chair and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. The last exchange of ideas on this topic with the party board took place last Thursday (the same day the government voted on Pentus–Rosimannus' candidacy – ed.).
You did not take any steps to submit your own candidacy yourself?
Naturally I gave my consent to the Prime Minister to allow her to present the candidacy.
Were there many candidates apart from you?
I can't comment. Choices and decisions of such weightiness have always been the responsibility of the leader of the party.
I am quoting the Anti-corruption Act: According to section 11, paragraph 1, an official cannot make a decision with respect to the official or a person connected to him or her. This is a restriction on the actions of officials, whose criminal consequences are prescribed for a knowing violation. Pursuant to section 202, section 1 of the Government of the Republic Act, the candidate for the member of the ECA is nominated by the government. But pursuant to section 12, point 13 of the Regulation of the Government of the Republic (link in Estonian), the Minister of Finance proposes this.
Since you could not present yourself as a candidate, you took advantage of the opportunity to resolve the situation, by going on a foreign visit. Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse (Reform) temporarily took over the duties of the Minister of Finance in your stead. Is that not a bad look for you?
I did not take the opportunity to go abroad, but was performing my duties as Minister of Finance at the discussions involving the Eurogroup (a recognized, collective term for official, informal meetings of the finance ministers of the eurozone - ed.) and European finance ministers. The current inflation, rates rising energy prices and the future of budgetary rules were under discussion It was a very comprehensive and quite complex meeting between the finance ministers of the EU. There was no way I could have stayed away from it.
But wouldn't it have been easier, and more transparent, if you had resigned, gone to the Riigikogu, and then the incoming finance minister could have offered you this position (at the ECA)?
The government's decision-making procedures have also been evaluated by the government office, whose assessment has been wholly unequivocal that everything was completely in accordance with the rules. They are the government's advisers on this matter, and I have confidence in them. So who else should I trust?
Why am I actually asking this? Primarily, since former state prosecutor Steven Hristo Evestus has presented in an article published by ERR (link in Estonian) which contained some rather serious suspicions: If Keit Pentus-Rosimannus had intervened in making the proposal to present herself, then there is a basis for suspecting a deliberate violation of the restriction on actions.
In the Evestus article, there was also a reference to your former party colleague Neinar Seli, who was criminally convicted for essentially the same actions.
Seli had been both the chairman of the Port of Tallinn (Tallinna Sadam) and the president of the Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK). He then had a Port of Tallinn meeting vote in favor of the decision to pay €250,000 in support to the EOK. The fact that Seli did not raise his hand during the vote also did not count. By the book, everything was fine there too, but the court did not believe Seli, and now he has had a criminal conviction.. Are you nit afraid that something similar may await you?
Again, the entire decision-making process from this government has already been very thoroughly evaluated by the government office, which is certainly competent in the matter, and found that everything went along correctly.
I was in no way there to make that decision; I was 1,600 km away. There had been no objections to things as Urmas Kruuse presented them.
Yes, formally everything is fine, but it looks like exactly the same behavior as took place regarding Neinar Seli. Formally speaking, Seli did not take part in the EOK vote, but he helped prepare the case and so the court convicted him.
I can't even comment on this parallel, it's certainly very bold. There are certain rules of government, and those rules have been followed. Yes, I understand that the content of the decision is not to everyone's liking, and it certainly has its share of domestic political interests. We have to accept that the government did not really make a decision amenable to all, this time.
Did you prepare for it yourself, or were you aware that the Ministry of Finance was preparing the documents for your candidacy?
At the end of the day, no one can be presented behind their own back; I had given my consent to be a candidate. I had also submitted a description of my biography as per the requirements. After all, such a situation cannot arise whereby a person who is absolutely unaware that his or her candidacy is being considered somehow finds out about it later.
Could you outline what the rumors which have been circulating in the press for a long time, or whence they derive, to the effect that you are that individual who will go to the ECA? I have checked in the archive that, for example, ERR asked you the same question as early as the middle of July. Have you done any lobbying to promote your candidacy?
I can't say where these rumors come from. If you look at the composition of the audit chamber, former finance ministers from several countries still work there. It is possible that one factor is behind this. But with regard to rumors, you would have to ask those people who spread the rumors.
Are you ready for a situation whereby an investigation will still be undertaken, to the extent that you have committed something similar to Neinar Seli?
You have to be ready for all kinds of outcomes, but again, the government office has evaluated the correctness of the decision-making and publicly presented its assessment. Everyone can get acquainted with that.
There had never been any previous agreements or discussions about your candidacy, either within the party or with the coalition partners?
I certainly can't confirm whether anyone has ever talked about me in this context before – I don't know the details of all the conversations which took place. But again, the Reform Party chair gave notice to the [party] board members last Thursday morning, ahead of the government meeting, while I had previously given my consent to that.
So the documentation at the Ministry of Finance on your nomination was prepared earlier than Thursday?
Of course, I had already submitted my resume ahead of time, otherwise I would not have been able to make the proposal, plus I had to confirm my consent.
Why am I asking this? If there had been any a substantive agreement between the Reform Party and the Social Democrats, why couldn't you have sat at the Riigikogu for a few months, or half a year (government ministers do not sit at the Riigikogu – ed.)? Unfortunately, the shadow of suspicion is now creeping over you that this was scheming?
I can't say much more about this 'shadow', other than, according to the confirmation of the government office, the decision was made with all due diligence. And you likely also understand that there are certainly those who did not like the decision, or why one party wanted the current ECA representative, Juhan Parts (Isamaa – ed.), to continue in this position.
Naturally, such internal political interests always influence these pronouncements, which were rather tense last week. I personally think that there is nothing to be done, such statements must also be understood in that context. Such is politics.
I don't want to be the judge whatsoever of whether you are suitable for the job or not. The purpose of this interview is, in fact, to try to explain these circumstances, in case a suspicion of breaking the law, as Steven Hristo Evestus writes in his article, should arise.
I haven't had time to look at his article today, because I have been dealing with matters of putting together the state budget strategy, since early in the morning.
However, there is a simple answer to the statement you just made. I was not present at that point in time when the government made the decision at the government session, but I was in fact more than a thousand kilometers away. And at that time, I was involved in discussions with European finance ministers on completely different topics. The proposal was not submitted by me either, but by Urmas Kruuse, acting as the Minister of Finance. All the regulations were met.
Do you actually have any complaints about State Secretary Taimar Peterkop? His task is to ensure that formally correct decisions are also substantively correct, and do not appear to be some kind of scheming? Yes, formally you did not introduce yourself, as you are not allowed to do that because it is against the law. You and the Reform Party used a mechanism whereby the Minister of Rural Affairs, who was acting Finance Minister for a day (ie. Kruuse - ed.) nominated you.
There is nothing out-of-the-ordinary going on here, I myself have deputized in the tasks of other ministers in exactly the same way when they are fulfilling their official duties outside of Estonia, and that was the case this time as well.
Keit Pentus-Rosimannus was talking to Indrek Kiisler.
Juhan Parts' term as Estonia's ECA representative ends on December 31.
Notwithstanding its name, the European Court of Auditors is not a court as such, but rather a professional auditing agency.
Through much of June and July this year, Reform's ministers, who at the time numbered seven, each deputized for one other ministerial post, after the seven Center Party ministers were dismissed from office by the prime minister.
Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!
Editor: Andrew Whyte