The cluster bill to regulate the solving of crises in Estonia requires a political owner and public debate as it deals with nothing less than limiting fundamental rights and shifting the balance of powers, Lavly Perling writes.
Organization and harmonization of all manner of crisis regulations currently included in various different laws is entirely sensible in itself. But the Civil Crisis and National Defense Act bill includes several provisions that raise questions in terms of their meaning, why particular solutions were picked and how they will be implemented. Not to mention that breaching fundamental rights can only be an extreme choice based on social consensus that we are willing to tolerate certain limitations or waive certain rights in critical situations. No such debate has been held.
On the contrary, the processing of the Civil Crisis and National Defense Act bill is happening during a time when we're learning of violations committed in the coronavirus crisis and court decisions according to which some restrictions should never have been laid down. The bill, now sent our for ministry approval by the state secretary, includes questions and problems that have never been the subject of public debate and runs the risk that lessons from past crises have not been learned.
What does it mean to say that a person is obligated to tolerate restrictive measures? Is the provision for "full authorization for limiting a person's fundamental rights and freedoms" really unavoidable? Why is the right to detain a suspect extended to 96 hours, even though the focus could be on achieving more effective proceedings?
What legal logic is there to the provision according to which if the Bank of Estonia has not put together a joint plan with the Ministry of Finance, it will seek the ministry's approval and the opinion of the Financial Supervision Authority? The right to limit dissemination of information, without specifying what kind of information can be held back, is also deserving of debate, alongside many other issues.
Above all, draft legislation that seeks to shift the balance of powers, change the roles of those responsible for solving crises and considerably infringe on fundamental rights needs to have a clear political owner. We learned from the media that the state secretary was standing in for the PM when he sent the bill out for approval. We have heard no explanation in terms of political responsibility, whereas it cannot be assumed by the state secretary.
Secondly, legislation of this magnitude requires public and political debate, while approving the bill without input from incoming ministers is irresponsible, ignorant even. It is especially important to make sure that this kind of behavior does not become commonplace – where important and complex, while at first glance boring social topics are dealt with in passing, without debate and visible owners.
Estonia will get a new government, new ministers, including political newcomers Eesti 200 in the coming weeks. All government partners and MPs need to be given enough time to get acquainted with such an important bill, shape their position and hold the necessary public debate.
I doubt all new members of the government and the Riigikogu are positively inclined toward limiting people's fundamental rights. Not to mention the opinion of voters who gave them their mandate. The only correct way to move forward is to make the crisis law bill and the principles therein a part of public debate in coalition talks.
Recent signs of political responsibility being bounced around or shirked are troubling. While the Reform Party was off to a good start with coalition negotiations, this has rapidly begun to change. Leaving aside lavish election promises and concentrating instead on austerity, revising unfair family benefits and abolition of free public transport was sensible. Now, it is time to convert votes into trust, which can be achieved through action based on a transparent, clear and savings-oritented pricing of the coalition agreement.
However, the crisis law bill is just one recent example of the pattern having changed. The prime minister's party is avoiding more complex while important topics that might spark criticism or reduce popularity, once more looking for a political comfort zone. And so, we have the state secretary talking about civilian crises, messages concerning wind farms and mines are far removed from the principle of ensuring a predictable business environment, press conferences are spent patronizing entrepreneurs and instead of [the promise of] maintaining the tax burden, property taxes have landed on the agenda.
While inept or powerless ministers and state officials undermining political authority are equally poor options for Estonia, it is clear that if a politician lacks the courage, skill or willingness to play their role, officials will do it for them. And we would be hard-pressed to criticize them for it.
Editor: Marcus Turovski