“Active Tallinn” and Savisaar’s election coalition decided to join forces last week, a move that was immediately criticized as little more than the continuation of the already well-known clientele politics in the capital and an attempt on the part of businessman Urmas Sõõrumaa to protect his financial interests.
After a meeting of the leading candidates of the two election coalitions on Friday, former Center Party chairman and suspended mayor of Tallinn, Edgar Savisaar, along with businessmen Urmas Sõõrumaa and Jüri Mõis announced that they will merge their lists.
“Active Tallinn”, the election coalition of businessmen Urmas Sõõrumaa and Jüri Mõis, is still looking for candidates, while Savisaar’s list, also featuring Center Party MP Olga Ivanova, is mainly built on the hope that he’ll be able to repeat past successes and score a very large share of the Russian vote in the capital.
As ERR’s Estonian news portal reported on Friday, neither the list’s candidate for mayor nor how it will be financed has been set yet.
The combined efforts of Savisaar, suspended as mayor of Tallinn for a series of criminal charges he is currently facing in court, and Sõõrumaa, who signed extremely lucrative real estate contracts with the Center Party-led city government, are already facing criticism.
Sõõrumaa’s businesses paid millions by Tallinn city government
Most commentators as well as the other candidates see Sõõrumaa and Savisaar’s list as a continuation continuation of the clientele politics of Savisaar’s city government over more than a decade. For example, one of Sõõrumaa’s companies, Vivatex Holding, has contracts with the city over the administration and maintenance of school buildings.
As ERR reported in summer last year, these companies are doing exceedingly well. Vivatex alone has received more than €28 million in payments by the city over the past ten years, some €15 million of which the business later reported as net profits.
If Sõõrumaa should end up on the city council, or if his election coalition should be part of a new city government after the coming local elections, this would mean a conflict of interest of an unprecedented scale.
He is involved in several companies that do business with local and state institutions. For example, in January this year he signed an agreement with the Ministry of Defence. The ministry is renting a number of buildings that belong to Sõõrumaa’s real estate company ESS Kinnisvara for a period of ten years, paying a fixed rent of €12.54 per square meter. At 3,000 square meters, that amounts to some €4.5 million over a decade. The complex is one of the company’s most important assets.
In Tallinn the city’s department of education signed contracts with Vivatex in 2006 over the administration and maintenance of five schools. The contracts have a duration period of no fewer than 30 years and specify that the buildings of the schools in question are passed on to the maintenance business for that time.
In practice this means that the city pays rent to the maintenance companies for the use of the buildings as schools. At the time the contracts with Vivatex were signed, the projected cost over the 30 years amounted to some €30 million, while in reality the city has paid in excess of €28 million to Sõõrumaa already in the first decade.
This higher price per square meter is based on a clause in each contract specifying that the agreement is subject to annual review—and a potential increase pegged to the consumer price index, which has been on a steady rise for years while two thirds of the contractual rental period still lie ahead.
Candidates: Sõõrumaa trying to protect business interests
Asked about the issue in an interview in early August this year, Sõõrumaa lashed out at a journalist of business paper Äripäev, refusing to comment both on the business involving Vivatex as well as his involvement in AS Signaal, another company that has lucrative contracts with the city.
The candidates of the other parties and election coalitions have already made it clear that Sõõrumaa’s bid for the city council couldn’t be seen as anything else than the attempt to protect his business interests in the post-Savisaar era.
Social Democratic candidate for mayor Rainer Vakra pointed out that when Sõõrumaa had run for the presidency of the Estonian Olympic Committee, he had positioned himself as the only apolitical candidate and made the fact that he wasn’t affiliated with any particular party a major component of his campaign.
Candidate for the Reform Party, Kristen Michal, said that Sõõrumaa’s election block was a likely candidate for a potential coalition with the Center Party, which would mean nothing else than the continuation of the corrupt clientele politics of the Center Party under Edgar Savisaar.
Martin Helme, the candidate of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), thinks it is evident that Sõõrumaa is trying to keep the city’s money flowing into his pockets. “Active Tallinn” was nothing else than a wingman for the Center Party, trying to keep the latter in power and keeping the profitable contracts in place.
Editor: Dario Cavegn