Helme tried to fire the police chief by overstepping his authority

Elmar Vaher.
Elmar Vaher. Photo: Erik Prozes

The minister of the interior’s much unexpected attempt yesterday to dismiss by overstepping his authority Elmar Vaher, the director general of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), turned into a total confusion by the evening, full of loud and contradictory statements.

To digress for a moment to the end of the day: Vaher is still in office, he has the confidence and support of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas. The largest question mark concerns the position of Mart Helme, the minister of the interior, who claims to have lost confidence in Vaher, and his party EKRE as a member of the coalition.

A lot of things happened between Thursday’s afternoon and evening.

Mart Helme’s initial version of the events

 Minister of the Interior Mart Helme, currently on leave, told the media that the director general of PPA has been dismissed due to no confidence as Vaher had lied about making PPA personnel redundant. Helme’s description of his decision later turned into termination of contract and launching a disciplinary procedure.

Elmar Vaher’s version

According to Vaher, Martin Helme, who is replacing Martin Helme during the leave, invited him to his office and first presented him a written document stating that Vaher would resign from his post. He refused to do it. Helme then brought out another paper, the minister of the interior’s decree dismissing him. Vaher did not sign that document either. According to Vaher, Helme explained the loss of confidence with the failure to make public an incident involving a former high civil servant Hannes Rumm being caught while driving drunk.

Mart Helme’s later version

Helme’s later reasoning and explanation can be found in the interview. Briefly, the loss of confidence was caused by Vaher’s alleged opposition to forming a border control reserve force that EKRE desired.

Martin Helme’s version

Martin Helme, who talked to Vaher as the interior minister’s replacement, initially refused to comment on the meeting, but according to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, Martin Helme told him that Vaher’s employment had not been terminated and no disciplinary procedure had been started either. Martin Helme later wrote in the social media that he had not cited the incident with Rumm as the reason of dismissal. “I said that in the existing situation it would be impossible for him to continue and there is a choice: to resign voluntarily or to have his employment terminated. As a visual representation of it, a draft document of dismissal was placed on the desk,” he explained. “It did not have my signature or that of the ministry’s secretary general and it did not need them; it was a draft. And I never said that this was an already signed document. I said that unless he steps down on his own, the second option would be used.”

Martin Helme’s later version

Martin Helme on the social media, Thursday at 20.38: “Of course, against the background of the whole political panic I have to admit that it was a mistake to intervene so hastily and vigorously in the domain of another minister. I had discussed the issue with my fellow party member the interior minister, but not with the prime minister. I must admit that this was not correct, I understand Jüri’s displeasure and I apologize. One learns something every day.”

Could the interior minister dismiss Vaher?

Elmar Vaher told a news conference that according to the law the PPA director general is appointed by the government and is also dismissed by the government as a whole. The interior minister’s letter was therefore invalid and did not oblige Vaher to do anything. “It was unlawful,” Vaher told the news conference. Moreover, the document handed over to Vaher carried a notice that the digital version had been signed by Ministry of Interior secretary general Lauri Lugna. The secretary general, who is on leave, had assured Vaher, and also told Postimees, that he had not signed the document.

Was Helme aware of his error?

The question goes unanswered whether the interior minister was aware that he cannot dismiss Vaher like that or he did not know that his powers do not extend to dismissing the PPA director general on his own.

What did Prime Minister Ratas know?

As far as is known, Ratas had no information about the Helmes’ planned move against Vaher. Both the government session and the cabinet meeting took place on Thursday. Both meetings opened an opportunity to inform Ratas. But even briefing the prime minister would not alter the fact that Vaher’s dismissal would require the decision of the government as a whole. Such a decision does not exist, since the minister of the interior did not submit it to the government or discussed it with colleagues.

What did Isamaa know?

Chairman of Isamaa Helir-Valdor Seeder said that he had first learned of the affair from the reporter. “I have no idea whether his employment is terminated or not,” Seeder said Thursday afternoon.

Will the government dismiss Vaher?

“The government I headed appointed Elmar Vaher the director general of PPA for the new term in May 2018,” Ratas wrote on the social media on Thursday. “I then told the press that I have confidence in Vaher as the director general and will not seek for a new head of the police. I stand by my words today as well. Expressing no confidence in the head of such an institution requires very clear and substantial reasons, which have not been presented.” Thus, until someone can bring weighty evidence against Vaher, he will continue as the PPA director general and he has the prime minister’s backing.

What happens next?

As of Thursday evening, interior minister Mart Helme claims to have lost confidence in Elmar Vaher and it looks as if he attempted to dismiss the director general of PPA personally with the help of his son and finance minister. Besides the fact that it is unlawful, he also failed to consult with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and the rest of the government with the exception of Minister of Finance Martin Helme. The prime minister announced his confidence and no proof have been submitted to change his position.

The question is how the government will continue if one of the ministers demands the resignation of the PPA director general, the coalition partners have not been informed of the demand, it has never been discussed and the prime minister assures that the PPA head will continue.

Mart Helme: Elmar Vaher stabbed me in the back

Interior Minister Mart Helme, have you terminated or are you terminating the employment of PPA director general Elmar Vaher?

Yes, “terminating” is the correct term. I overestimated the speed of bureaucratic procedures, especially while being on leave. Officials are presently busy drafting a legally watertight document and I cannot tell how fast it will be completed – during my leave or when I return next Wednesday. It is coming; no doubt about it.

What is the reason?

There are a number of reasons. Of course one of them is that we cannot have any trusting cooperation after he essentially stabbed me in the back. It is especially brazen to tell lies that I had given orders regarding making police officers redundant. Imagine such impudence! To tell me such lies although I know what really happened.

Did you call him before the meeting with Martin Helme?

I called him today (i.e. on August 15), let us say. We also met in the ministry a few days ago. The reason is very simple. Elmar Vaher essentially launched an information attack, since our latest meeting involved a rather heated debate on domestic security reserve, the reorganization of the border guard, the command system of these structures. It included state secrets as well, let us say. And now he decided to torpedo these things by leaking information into the media as if the government is demanding the cutting of 150 jobs. What is Elmar Vaher actually doing? He sabotages the government, the interior minister, he opposes items in the coalition agreement.

He clearly told one of my advisors: he does not care what the coalition agreement says, he would not do it. If we consider all that, should I then remain silent and accept it and say that “Elmar Vaher is a fine fellow”!?

See, I am not that kind of person. Is the Ministry of the Interior headed by Minister Mart Helme or is Elmar Vaher running the government and the ministry? It is a principal matter and I also keep in mind that I joined the government with the support of some 10,000 voters, which Elmar Vaher does not have. The government signed Elmar Vaher’s contract and the government can also terminate it. But of course I have to convince all the members of the government in a watertight manner.

Is the government united on that issue? When will you discuss it?

Well, I would not tell you the internal affairs of the government; it has been discussed already and is being discussed. But if some officials think that this government is toothless and clawless, they are mistaken. This is not a toothless government and it is not dancing to the tune of some swollen-headed people.

How would you comment on the relation between Hannes Rumm and Elmar Vaher, which Eesti Ekspress wrote about?

I have not read the article. I have no idea. Sorry, I am busy now.

Ratas promised to talk to Helme in six days

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas repeated in the evening news broadcast what he had earlier written about on social media: he has full confidence in the PPA and its director general Elmar Vaher. “Today’s confusion definitely undermined the work of those people and I do not approve this,” Ratas said.

When asked whether he has confidence in the interior minister Mart Helme, who is currently on leave, Ratas answered: “Estonia observes the rule of law and it has been established who appoints the PPA director general. I told both Helmes that I do not support starting the disciplinary procedure.”

As for the actions of Minister of Finance Martin Helme who replaced the minister of the interior, Ratas was resolute. “Martin Helme overstepped his powers and competence. We have not discussed in the government dismissing the PPA director general,” he said. While leaving the studio, Ratas added to Postimees that he did not approve the way Martin Helme had presented the documents to Vaher at their meeting. “My opinion is very low.”

When asked whether he or Mart Helme heads the government, Ratas answered: “[The government] is headed by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas:”

During the TV interview Ratas revealed that he would meet with the minister of the interior personally. Yet the prime minister is not in a hurry. Rats said that he would wait until Mart Helme returns from his leave. If so, he will see Helme only next Wednesday (August 21).

Hannes Rumm linked to Vaher’s dismissal

Jaak Madison (EKRE) posted a cryptic statement about Elmar Vaher on his Facebook page this week. “I have information or actually proof which seriously questions his suitability as the PPA director general. It will be soon made public,” Madison wrote.

The weekly Eesti Ekspress explained the background in an article published Thursday evening. The director general’s trustworthiness was undermined in Madison’s eyes by an incident last autumn involving Hannes Rumm, the then advisor of Foreign Minister Sven Mikser. Rumm was caught while driving drunk well over the legal limit. A criminal procedure was started but Rumm expressed regret and opted for a plea bargain with the prosecutor’s office. Since Rumm had no previous record, he received no further punishment and only had to undergo the rehabilitation program “Decent driver”. If lawbreakers agree to undergo the training program, they will not be entered in the criminal register.

Madison, whop was aware of Rumm’s traffic violation, observed the criminal register. When Rumm’s name failed to appear and the incident never reached the media, he began to suspect foul play by the PPA director general. Madison only learned the facts about Rumm’s punishment after the weekly’s journalist informed him.

Martin Helme, while relaying the announcement of dismissal to Elmer Vaher, cited the case of Hannes Rumm and the suspicion that Vaher covered it up.