Solman: Pere Sihtkapital dropped the ball but money should not be reclaimed

Riina Solman (Isamaa).
Riina Solman (Isamaa). Source: Government Office.

Riina Solman (Isamaa), who allocated €250,000 to the Pere Sihtkapital foundation when still serving as Estonia's public administration minister in March, told "Aktuaalne kaamera" news that because the foundation has admitted its mistake, the survey for which the money was earmarked should continue.

Then Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) in March allocated €250,000 to the Pere Sihtkapital foundation for four studies on birth rate, including among women with no children, those with many children, those with one child and those with two children.

Pere Sihtkapital, a population policy think tank backed by Isamaa, obtained personal and contact information of tens of thousands of childless Estonian women from the Population Register and sent them a questionnaire with personal and sensitive questions, such as why they do not have children. The Data Protection Inspectorate has deemed the survey problematic and the University of Tartu said the study is not in accordance with good scientific practice and lacks approval from its ethics committee.

Riina Solman gave an interview to "Aktuaalne kaamera" evening news.

You were no longer population minister and were serving in the capacity of the public administration minister when you signed off on the funding.

Indeed. Because the position of the population minister and everything it entailed was packed up, following the Reform Party's initiative, and moved to the administrative area of Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo, the Ministry of Social Affairs has not created a single demographics committee or initiated relevant activities since.

In which case you believe it is proper for the public administration minister to sign such appropriations?

The public administration minister is responsible for regional policy and local government policy. This concerns life in rural areas and the periphery. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate in terms of population structure and from the point of view of the feasibility of life in the country.

Was the allocation tied to expectations of survey results?

We had not elaborated on the activities of the Pere Sihtkapital to that point, no.

The studies are ruined as a result of Pere Sihtkapital breaking so many rules.

Failing to secure the ethics committee's blessing for continuing the study makes for a separate matter. Because it would be a great shame if the committee failed to communicate its analysis of this technical, how should I put it, cluster blunder.

If Pere Sihtkapital has not done its due diligence and has committed a cluster blunder, as you put it, should they be required to return the sum? Because they cannot continue with the study as things stand.

I believe it is a regrettable mistake, which the foundation has admitted, but because this is not an Estonia-specific study – such research is commonplace in the EU – I also believe the mistake can be rectified. And the Eesti Pere Sihtkapital, as the only foundation seriously involved in measuring demographics /.../ in Estonia, should be allowed to continue its activities.

I say it is regrettable if the ethics committee is politicized. From what I've seen, Margit Sutrop's comments /.../ seem to suggest that it is, and that it is a politicized decision. I am also greatly bothered by what comes off as a witch hunt for scientists or civil society organizations behind the foundation.

Margit Sutrop, who has criticized the foundation's decision to launch the study before waiting for the position of an ethics committee at the University of Tartu, runs the university's Ethics Center but is not a member of the committee.

The ethical aspects of studies are the purview of the University of Tarty Human Studies Ethics Committee. The University of Tartu Ethics Center is in charge of teaching and researching ethics and moderating public debate on values and norms.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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