Center Party’s Martin Repinski (31), who was rural affairs minister for 18 days, says he doesn’t really know Urmas Laht. That they have met on a few occasions. When I first contact Repinski, he denies having met privately with Laht in the ministry.
Repinski is less sure when I call him a few days later. “I heard that Urmas said we did meet. It is possible if he says so, while I really cannot remember having discussed something with just him.”
You oversaw the extraordinary adaptation aid regulation?
Your predecessor Urmas Kruuse had already agreed, in a council made up of experts, on a two-prong approach: to allocate more support for companies that were in the third zone for the first time and less to everyone else, including zone III farms that had already been supported last year. You decided to create a whole new support rate for the latter.
Yes. I can take some credit for the idea. The question was whether we should support those who had already received aid. Some newcomers to the third zone believed we shouldn’t as they are competing on the same market.
My position was that we do not know how long the crisis will last. And the money largely came from the EU. It seemed fairer to also pay those who had received aid since we had that possibility.
I also thought that we could apply for more aid from the EU should the crisis persist. That otherwise they would tell us that you only pay support once and don’t need more money.
Whence the initiative for the amendment: you or pig farmers?
It was the entire sector… I remember that at first it was the Estonian Farmers Association or some other organization that proposed such an option. Next followed a heated debate – pig farmers came to the ministry and bombarded us with calls.
One of the beneficiaries of the new rates was OÜ Markilo that is run by Urmas Laht. You did not perceive a possible conflict of interest?
To be honest, I have never investigated who runs what. I was told the old system was tailored to benefit Reform Party members. I was warned that was the reason it needed changing. I’m not a professional politician, and I looked at it from within: how I could be affected as a businessman and how better to organize it.
Do you still believe it was right to support farms that had already qualified for extraordinary aid?
I believe it was the right idea. However, I have not kept an eye on who got what in the end. Perhaps I looked too far ahead. Had I only considered a single year’s perspective, perhaps I would have gone about it differently. We were afraid the swine flu crisis could last years, decades even.
Perhaps Urmas Laht simply wrapped you around his finger?
That cannot be… because… well, because… These things… A minister has influence and basically makes the decision. However, the deputy secretary general in charge would never allow such a move if they saw the decision benefitting a specific company or even several.
It was not a case of Urmas Laht coming to you to propose a specific regulation and rates?
Absolutely not. Urmas Laht no doubt had his proposals, but there were others trying to propose things. I first and foremost consulted the secretary general and deputy secretaries before making the decision.
I do not believe any Estonian minister would think that small, try and tailor support for individual companies. And I believe Urmas Laht has enough political experience to realize such a thing could not be kept under wraps.