Former justice minister Lea Danilson-Jarg (Isamaa) wrote in an opinion article that one of the former government ministers had proposed canceling the February 24 presidential reception as a potential cost-cutting measure. Riina Solman (Isamaa), former minister of public administration, said Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) proposed this.
On Thursday Kallas told ERR that there had been no discussion of canceling the February 24 reception at any of the government meetings. Solman told ERR on Friday that Kallas was the one who brought up the issue at the meeting. The prime minister also rejected that claim again on Friday.
"This is a downright lie that is clearly motivated by political considerations," Kallas told ERR.
Solman added that when Peep Jahilo, the director of the president's office, presented the budget request to the cabinet, the topic of the president's reception was also discussed.
"It is impossible to re-create the discussion precisely, but I recall the prime minister raising the issue of whether the president's reception on February 24 was actually necessary, as if to indicate that it could save money. The reception had been canceled previously due to the pandemic, and it is ambiguous whether the prime minister was joking or not; however, it was a topic of a discussion," Solman explained.
SDE and Peterkop do not confirm Solman's claim and Jahilo did not weigh in on the controversy.
Former Health and Labor Minister Peep Peterson (SDE) told ERR that such a topic was mentioned at the meeting, but he couldn't remember whether Kaja Kallas spoke the exact words.
Piret Hartman (SDE), the culture minister at the time, told ERR that she could not confirm the claim that it was Kaja Kallas who had brought up the possibility of canceling the reception.
"I do not recall discussing these issues in relation to the reception," she said, adding that the government was in support of finding a solution to the presidential office's financial problems.
The communications director in the president's office, Mariann Sudakov, told ERR that Jahilo did not deem it appropriate to comment on the content of government discussions.
Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop told ERR that, as far as he could recall, no such issue had been raised. Peterkop also said that cabinet meetings are closed so that ministers can openly discuss issues.
Solman took the prime minister's words as a joke
Solman added that she herself interpreted Kallas' remarks as a joke, as the discussion continued and other ministers laughed as well.
She also recalled that Peep Jahilo said that he had warned presidential office staff against using ironic rhetoric or playful language when communicating with politicians.
"Instead of a joke, that what we heard at the cabinet meeting could have sent a negative signal to the presidential office," Solman said.
She went on to say that, in her opinion, it is not a case of the presidential office not wanting to save money, but that the prime minister's statement may have come across as an inconvenient statement of the truth, because part of the presidential office's job is to be responsible for preserving traditions that are important to the Estonian state.
At the same time, Danilson-Järg, who raised the issue in the opinion piece, did not disclose to ERR which minister it was.
Former Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said he did not personally attend the meeting and therefore could not name the minister.
Editor: Grete-Liina Roosve, Kristina Kersa