Scandals mark government’s first year


PHOTO: Robin Roots / Õhtuleht

Today marks the passing of one year from the day ministers in Jüri Ratas’ government of the Center Party, Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL), and the Social Democrat Party (SDE) took their oath of office. It has hardly been smooth sailing for the government as five ministers out of 15 have been replaced in just 12 months.

The prime minister believes the government has worked as a team, been constructive and not afraid of debates. “Mutual respect has helped us find agreement in even the fiercest arguments. This has allowed us to make important decisions to improve the living environment of the people of Estonia, boost social equality, ensure long-lived and sustainable economic growth, and reinforce national security,” Ratas said.

Postimees gives the government a D+ for its work over the past year. This reflects the editorial staff’s critical view of the government’s work, while the “plus” suggests a sustainable level is not far off. Coalition partners must leave behind their confusing and dragged-out decisions to break even in the long run.

The Estonian public was treated to several scandals tied to the government’s decisions or its ministers over the past year. Martin Repinski’s goat farm. Mihhail Korb’s NATO utterance. Urve Palo’s treachery regarding rural area broadband. Jevgeni Ossinovski’s alcohol excise duty. Kadri Simson and free public transport. Toomas Tõniste and the English language. Mailis Reps and high school entry requirements. Jüri Ratas and the ID-card. And this is not the final list.

We can add scandals that concerned the government partners separately, like Yana Toom’s utterances, Margus Tsahkna and Marko Mihkelson’s departure from IRL, Olga Ivanova’s eviction from and Edgar Savisaar’s role in the Center Party etc.

It is possible not all of these cases will turn out for the worse; however, they have caused their fair share of confusion. For example, while the prime minister’s handling of the ID-card security situation can arguably be seen as positive, the incident itself is problematic.

That is why it is unfortunate that if we leave aside ministers involved in scandals, actions of the remaining members of government are painted in rather washed-out colors. The administrative reform was finished, defense investments were boosted, salaries of education and culture workers and police officers were hiked, agricultural support increased – these are the obvious keywords.

Postimees asked heads of coalition parties to highlight the main keywords of the past year. Only one topic was echoed by all three – the income tax reform that has caused quite a bit of confusion in recent weeks.

Minister of Healthcare and Labor Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) said that it will give most salaried workers an additional 64 euros a month and bring tens of thousands out of poverty. Prime Minister Ratas added that three-quarters of Estonians will get to keep more money at the end of the day.

IRL chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder was the only one to remark that the reform also has weaknesses. “Because this kind of a fundamental change is executed for the first time in Estonia, the technical side of the tax exemption requires further analysis, and we must continue working toward making the system simpler,” he said.

As concerns other keywords, similarities can only be found in the answers of two chairmen. Both Seeder and Ossinovski mentioned the hike of benefits for large families. “We hiked the monthly benefit for families with three to six children to 300 euros and that for families with seven or more children to 400 euros in July, the former said. Ossinovski added that the government also introduced the alimony fund and state hobby school support.

Ratas and Ossinovski pointed out that the healthcare system will receive an additional 200 million euros. “We will cut sums the elderly and people suffering from chronic illness will have to spend on medicinal products and have already restored the dental benefit that has made dental services more widely available,” the health and labor minister added.

Assessments diverge as concerns the rest: Seeder prioritizes national defense and a more favorable business environment, Ratas stronger local governments and transitional support for farmers, while Ossinovski mentions an additional 100 million euros for education.

However, these things are overshadowed by the government’s problems. The sea has become especially restless in the second half of autumn, during budget deliberations for next year. IRL, that set a new course by electing Seeder, simply does not like free public transport and rising excise duties on alcohol. A matter that will be debated again today as Finance Minister Toomas Tõniste has suddenly found 35 million euros that could be used to cancel the hike.

Still, the government can afford to have another argument as the only realistic alternative for the post of captain – the Reform Party – is mired in strife. The battle for control rages between chairman Hanno Pevkur, Kristen Michal, and the camp of Kaja and Siim Kallas.