Aab kept silent for over a month

Jaak Aab.

PHOTO: Liis Treimann

Jaak Aab was forced to resign as state administration minister yesterday just as unexpectedly as he got the position ten months ago.

The Center Party politician caught the police’s attention going 23 km/h over the speed limit in a 50 km/h zone near the Lõunakeskus shopping mall in Tartu at noon on March 11. The minister was pulled over and found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.28 parts per mil. Aab hid his foolish conduct from the public for more than a month, until yesterday.

The fact it took Aab so long to come clean created its fair share of confusion yesterday. Postimees contacted Aab and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas on several occasions, and this is what they had to say.

Aab’s vehicle was pulled over by three patrolmen on March 11. He was not allowed to drive further as he showed signs of intoxication. Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt’s adviser, Mari Rebane, said that the officers did not recognize Aab.

Aab said he did not hide his position from the policemen as the decision to remove him from behind the wheel lists his position as that of the government’s state administration minister. “This has been changed to a Riigikogu official in the final decision. It is probable my past position came up from some database,” the minister explained.

Aab said that next he decided to resign as minister. However, he did not do so straight away. “I did not disclose the incident at the time because I did not want my conduct to cast a shadow over state budget strategy deliberations,” he said.

It took until the beginning of last week for a final decision to be made concerning Aab that was sent to his work email address. His license was suspended for a month.

Aab learned that the decision would enter into force on April 26. “I knew I had until then to resign,” he said.

That is when budget strategy deliberations began in Sagadi on April 12. A basic agreement was reached the next day. Aab’s self-appointed deadline for resignation seemed to be approaching fast. However, it depended on whether he aimed for the general agreement or the settling of all technical details.

Heavy blow to Ratas

Whatever the case, Aab was not the first to notify Ratas as things progressed without his knowledge on Saturday. Director General of the Police and Border Guard Board Elmar Vaher, who had learned of the incident, called his superior Anvelt and told him what had happened. Anvelt relayed the message to Ratas a few minutes after 3 p.m.

Ratas had no choice but to call Aab and ask him whether the information was correct. Aab claims he told the PM he was planning on coming clean in the next few days.

“Next, I notified the PM of my plan to resign as the first thing. I had no plan of hiding it. Everyone knows something like that comes out,” the minister said.

Aab still attended the Riigikogu State Budget Control Select Committee sitting on Monday on centralization of state agencies’ support services. The Ministry of Finance called an extraordinary press conference for 10 a.m. on Tuesday where Aab announced his resignation.

PM Ratas commented on the development soon after the press conference. “I accepted Minister of State Administration Jaak Aab’s resignation with a heavy heart. Unfortunately, there is no other choice. No driver can afford to conduct themselves in this manner. Minister Jaak Aab has drawn serious conclusions from the incident that are reflected in his statesmanlike decision,” the PM said.

Aab’s resignation indeed came as a heavy blow to Ratas as his government lost its third centrist minister. More so as Aab was thought of highly in the government for his diligence in learning his material and being able to explain all its details.

Even though other ministers did in no way approve of Aab’s conduct – to get behind the wheel while still under the influence of alcohol and break the speed limit – and understood he must resign, they gave his work in the government good marks.

“Aab was very thorough, determined, and hardworking as minister. He helped successfully conclude the administrative reform that was one of the most important reforms for the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) in recent years,” said Minister of the Environment Siim Kiisler.

“I know Jaak as a constructive person who is always willing to hear the other side out and discuss things. I noticed a qualitative change in how State Real Estate Ltd. (RKAS) is run during his time as minister as the agency started concentrating more on finding solutions,” said Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Urve Palo (SDE).

No Riigikogu seat

Minister of Finance Toomas Tõniste (IRL), Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (IRL), and Minister of Culture Indrek Saar (SDE) also had kind words for Aab.

However, Aab’s resignation as minister might not be a total disaster for Ratas. Aab was one of the key figures in Mailis Reps’ presidential campaign last year that turned out well, even though Reps was not elected president.

Aab was also among the most important architects of the current government that landed him the positions of Center’s secretary general in the fall of 2016. From there, he stepped in for Mihhail Korb as state administration minister in June last.

Aab has no seat waiting for him in the Riigikogu as he did not take part in the 2015 elections. Aab will likely remain connected to the party as he is a key asset for Center at the 2019 elections.

Who will become the next state administration minister will become clear in the coming weeks as Ratas has not made a proposal to anyone yet. Postimees has been told that it is likely the person will not come from Center’s Riigikogu faction.