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Government infighting continues as IRL derails confirmation of police chief

PPA director-general, Elmar Vaher.
PPA director-general, Elmar Vaher. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Director-general of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), Elmar Vaher, was supposed to get confirmed for another term by the government on Thursday last week, but didn't because junior coalition partner IRL announced that they haven't yet come to a decision in the matter. The result is that Vaher will be acting director-general for at least a day this week as the government is once again trying to resolve its internal differences.

IRL chairman Seeder goes against Police and Border Guard chief Elmar Vaher's confirmation

According to chairman of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), Helir-Valdor Seeder, the party wants "more time to familiarize with the details of the more expensive border construction". Both of IRL's coalition partners, the Center Party as well as the Social Democrats (SDE), are calling this latest curveball out of the coalition's conservative corner both "inappropriate" and an attempt at getting attention.

According to ERR's "Aktuaalne kaamera" newscast, Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE) removed the confirmation of both PPA's Elmar Vaher as well as the Internal Security Service's Arnold Sinisalu from Thursday's agenda following IRL's intervention.

Meanwhile, IRL's chairman claims that Anvelt's intention to put up Vaher and Sinisalu for confirmation in last week's government meeting came as a surprise. The party's parliamentary group needs more time to look into the projected cost of the construction of new border infrastructure, Seeder said. Seeder leads IRL's parliamentary group in the Riigikogu and himself isn't a minister, but has been granted the privilege to attend government meetings.

Following the announcement in early February this year that the works along the Estonian-Russian border to modernize PPA's infrastructure would cost up to €197 million instead of the initially announced €79 million, and also take much longer to complete, the government ordered an audit of the project, which dates back to the year 2015 and decisions made under the previous coalition of the Reform Party, IRL, and the Social Democrats.

IRL revisits border construction cost issue two months after audit is published

The findings of the audit were published in March this year. "The results of the audit show that no mistakes were made when planning the construction of the eastern border," Interior Minister Andres Anvelt said at the time.

Anvelt explained that when the estimates were being drawn up based on the previous government's instructions in 2015, there was very little information regarding details which would affect the eventual construction price, like construction volumes and geology, explained the minister. In addition, PPA were given just a month and a half to present their assessment, he added.

Commenting on the results of the audit and the decisions of the government at the time, Seeder didn't make a connection between his party's role then and now, but instead condemned the way things were handled at the time. "It was drawn up over a very short period of time, in a rush, the plans were too ambitious, the forecasts and assessments concerning the costs were inaccurate, and the audit finds no mistakes were made? Come on, if the things I've just listed aren't mistakes, what are they?" Seeder asked.

A hint that IRL's move might aim at scoring points with its voters rather than prudent government spending policy was Seeder's comment that the 120 million more the state will have to spend on border construction mean a greater loss to the state "than the government's mistakes in its alcohol policy". IRL have been using the latter for months for digs at their coalition partners, the Social Democrats.

Anvelt considers both Elmar Vaher and Arnold Sinisalu able candidates, and will bring up their confirmation in office at this week's government meeting anyway.

IRL desperately trying to get ratings out of the doldrums, say coalition MPs

Meanwhile, Social Democratic MP and member of the Riigikogu's Legal Affairs Committee, Liisa Oviir, has condemned Seeder's behavior. The committee issued the recommendation to confirm the two directors-general in office.

That a single person intervenes on the very morning the government is going to confirm the two officials, and that Seeder does so after the Riigikogu's Legal Affairs Committee has already recommended the confirmation of both Vaher and Sinisalu, such behavior is "inappropriate," Oviir said.

She pointed out that though Internal Security Service director Arnold Sinisalu's term only expires in mid-June, PPA director Elmar Vaher's term expires on Wednesday. The government meeting in which he might be confirmed is on Thursday this week. "Why do we need this now?" Oviir asked.

Her colleague on the Legal Affairs Committee, member of the Center Party's parliamentary group Olga Ivanova (independent), said that IRL's move was more likely a desperate attempt at getting its party ratings out of the doldrums, making political capital out of the modernization of the Estonian-Russian border.

Up next is Anvelt's appointment of Vaher as acting director of PPA. IRL's parliamentary group will pick up the issue in its meeting on Wednesday this week. The next chance for the government to confirm Vaher is in its meeting on Thursday, which would make Vaher his own replacement for at least one day this week.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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