Incoming Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller told the “Otse Postimehest” program yesterday that the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA) is generally successful in managing support and recent unfortunate incidents could rather be described as individual cases.
Arvo Aller, you have talked about the need to restore trust at the Ministry of Rural Affairs’ agencies. The previous minister was critical of both the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) and PRIA. You do not share these concerns?
Restoration of trust from the point of view of manufacturers. That they would trust agencies to act as partners instead of simply churning out fines.
Do you feel these agencies are ordering too many fines and are not acting as partners today?
That is the impression one gets from difference coverage.
How to change this situation?
First, I want to sit down with management boards and find out where the problem is the most serious. To get ideas and input for further decisions. There will not be hurried action, everything will happen through discussion and cooperation.
Heads of fish packing and processing company M.V.Wool have said they’ve been building up the company for 25 years only to have it destroyed in three months. How does that situation look to you?
I only have what the media has reported to go on. I think it is a case of miscommunication. Perhaps the VTA should have advised the company in terms of how to isolate and destroy the bacteria. But I don’t know whether it was done or not.
Several leading Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) politicians have said that the VTA is persecuting farmers. What do you think?
Once I am sworn in as minister, we need to consult experts and find answers to questions such as how the contamination got started and why, isolate shortcomings in communication. To get to the bottom of where problems first started.
You said at the press conference that you have criticism for the VTA in terms of transparency. Would you elaborate on where exactly the agency is lacking in transparency?
Transparency is talking about things publicly, including what the [previous] minister asked that could have been interpreted as meddling. A minister has the right to ask questions in his administrative area. The question is whether his inquiry was too specific or too vague. Perhaps if I can see that correspondence in the future, I can tell you what was wrong and what was right.
Should the VTA forward all information directly to the minister then?
I have not looked into how this chain of information works. If the agency is obligated to report, it must notify the minister. If there is no such obligation, there are probably things it should report and those it shouldn’t. I am not up to speed with these regulations today.
You have advised companies and farmers on European subsidies. At the same time, applicants often bluff when it comes to cost-sharing volume. Can you be sure a company you’ve advised has not engaged in subsidy fraud?
I do not know of such cases among my client base. It is up to the producer to decide in which manner to apply for investment support. I cannot recall any subsidy fraud cases.
But have you seen companies try to bluff or scheme in terms of cost-sharing?
I believe the problem is not widespread. These are isolated cases that we need to address. Estonia is among the most successful countries when it comes to processing European subsidies, and PRIA has done great work there. We need to solve these individual cases and make decisions to minimize such incidents in the future.
How often have you seen farmers go bust with their applications, unable to comply with requirements later?
There are situations where producers overestimate their capacity. It is the duty and aim of a consultant to notify producers in such cases. Tell them when they cannot pull something off or comply in time.
Did your predecessor Mart Järvik do anything wrong?
Without analyzing the reasons, I believe he might have erred in a few places, but whether he consciously did something wrong is something I cannot say.
Where could he have erred?
Perhaps in being too open in his utterances. He voiced support for an Estonian product, while it was made out to mean that he was against the Veterinary and Food Board. That might not have been the case.
In your opinion, was releasing Secretary General Illar Lemetti from office the right decision? Cooperation was unsuccessful between Järvik and Lemetti, but could you have worked with him?
I have come into contact with Lemetti professionally. Would our cooperation have been successful? The decision was made by the previous minister and approved by the government. I cannot say whether it would have been a success. I cannot comment on that at this time.
PRIA handles European subsidies, and Järvik’s scandal revolved around PRIA subsidies and the minister’s meddling in the work of the agency. From the point of view of farmers and having worked as an agricultural consultant, has PRIA been too strict at times?
PRIA follows the rules, a framework provided by the European Union and Brussels. The agency acts and makes its decisions based on these rules. Explaining these rules to producers is where greater efforts are needed, so that there would be no two ways of interpreting them.
Where do you stand on the deep state? Is there such a thing and are state officials a part of it?
I guess we’ll see once I am sworn in as minister.