Yesterday, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves decided to remove decorations from former agriculture minister Ester Tuiksoo, then Land Board head Kalev Kangur and entrepreneur Toomas Annus – all convicted in the land exchange court case. The fourth decorated one judged guilty, Villu Reiljan, had to hand his over in 2010 already, as conclusively convicted at Supreme Court in gratuities-related offences regarding Rävala real estate affair.
Honorary decorations aren’t just any badge to wear. First and foremost, this is deeply meaningful recognition. And thus, the removal of it also carries great weight. To President, the right to remove such is granted by Decorations Act, and the decision was substantiated indeed. For various reasons, at that.
Firstly, we have to do with high ranking state officials and a well-known entrepreneur who, misusing the powers at their command, earned substantial profits to themselves and interested parties. As assured by the court ruling, this is legally wrong. As underlined by removal of the decorations, such actions cannot be socially tolerated.
Secondly: the court judgement, in spite of everything, was somewhat lenient, as all were punished conditionally. Considering the harm caused to the society and the profits reaped, the question might have arisen regarding proportionality. Time will pass, shame will fade, but the money remains. Regarding the time and the money, not much the society can do: the time goes on, lion’s share of the money has long since circulated on accounts of other companies – quite impossible to recover. If anything, perhaps shame will call folks to some reason in times to come. A place in the undecorated-list might serve as a potentially disciplinary reminder.
Thirdly: for the public, the land exchange court case long ago ceased to be mere legal delay; rather, it painfully pierced our sense of justice and thrust its roots much deeper than seen by casual observer. Possibly, this was a reason to the widespread crisis of trust that, among other things, gave such resonance to the Reform Party financing scandal. When, in 2012, Harju County Court judged all of the above as righteous, hopelessness set in. It felt like those on higher perches in society are entitled to manipulate the law as they please so that even a court – our only hope – has nothing to lay hold of.
As proven by the «guilty» verdict at Supreme Court, that’s not true: the high and lofty ones may no longer bypass the law. The decision by President, yesterday, went even further: a higher position carries greater responsibility; if one fails to sense that, the society will react. By the court decision, rule of law was proven to function; by the presidential act, the proof was sealed.