Järvik committee has no right to demand answers

Taimar Peterkop.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

The state secretary’s task to get to the bottom of Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik’s (EKRE) scandals inside ten days buys members of the government time and gives PM Jüri Ratas the chance to avoid giving meaningful answers regarding Järvik’s actions.

Several leading politicians of the coalition Isamaa party have suggested that facts and clarity are needed first, which idea was echoed by Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) chair Mart Helme before the Tuesday meeting of coalition partners. An investigative committee formed by PM Ratas and tasked with answering questions regarding no fewer than four scandals surrounding Järvik started its work yesterday. They concern authorization for the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA), actions of the minister’s now former adviser Urmas Arumäe, how information moved regarding a listeria outbreak and possible meddling in the work of the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) and PRIA.

The committee is chaired by State Secretary Taimar Peterkop after less than a year in office. Peterkop said he learned of the plan to form the committee on Tuesday when Center met with its coalition partners. Because the matter is urgent, Peterkop communicated the formation of a four-member committee yesterday. The first documents requested from state agencies should reach the committee today.

Apolitical experts

Other members of the committee include Airi Mikli from the National Audit Office, Marje Kask from the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and head of the legal drafting department of the Government Office Margus Matt. Members of the committee were picked considering the group had to be small and comprised of neutral experts with considerable work capacity. Peterkop turned to the auditor general and the justice chancellor for recommendations.

Even though the PM can task the state secretary with such investigations, a situation where the premier cannot get answers out of a minister of his government and must form an investigative committee for the purpose of getting to the bottom of the minister’s scandals surprises political analyst Tõnis Saarts. “If the practice of forming investigative committees when someone makes a mistake becomes standard fare, these things might end up taking ages. How long would something like this be investigated regarding some other ministers? The public might also develop doubts as to the committee’s impartiality. Such things will not only undermine the prime minister but the entire Estonian state on an institutional level,” Saarts told the “Otse Postimehest” program yesterday,

Peterkop said that the reason the PM tasked the state secretary with forming the committee is the fact he is the head of the Government Office. “In a situation where the prime minister needs clarity, the Government Office is where he should turn,” Peterkop explained. He added that the committee comes as a precedent as it is the first time a prime minister needs a committee to understand a minister’s actions.

Focus on documents

The Government of the Republic Act gives the PM the right to form such a committee and request information from state agencies. When it comes to interviewing Mart Järvik or his former adviser, the committee can only hope they are willing to cooperate. “The sides are not obligated to give us any information,” Peterkop admitted.

The committee’s investigation will focus on analyzing documents intended for in-house use and those that are publicly available, like correspondences, minutes, newspaper articles etc., reconstructing events and establishing a timeline. The committee’s final report might also include proposals and assessments should it prove possible to arrive at them. “That will mainly depend on the materials we will collect, what we can do with this material,” Peterkop added. “That said, should the material not allow us to form a timeline, we will not be inventing one,” the state secretary said.

For as long as the committee studies materials tied to Järvik, PM Jüri Ratas can avoid passing judgment on the rural affairs minister. He demonstrated as much during yesterday’s Riigikogu Question Time. “We will wait for the results of the investigation. I will not engage in guesswork before that time,” Ratas told Reform Party MP Jürgen Ligi when asked for the reason Järvik refused to authorize PRIA to represent the state’s interests in court. True, the PM had previously read out a few extracts from the rural affairs minister’s correspondence.

EKRE deputy chair Martin Helme also mentioned the committee in the Riigikogu, saying that it will meet with the persons involved in the interests of clarity if necessary. EKRE Riigikogu group head Helle-Moonika Helme told ERR yesterday that she will trust the results of the committee’s report whatever they may be.

The committee’s report needs to be on the prime minister’s desk by November 23 at the latest.