Kristian Jaani on becoming a politician: I’m strapped in and things are getting interesting

Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani.
Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani. Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

Postimees TV talk show «Minister in the Crosswinds» hosted Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani who said that he had to promise to join the Center Party that is currently suspected of corruption offenses in exchange for his posting before the fall elections.

What makes a police executive with a spotless record decide to get involved with a political party suspected of corruption and one that has been found guilty in criminal procedure in the past?

Why not? How often does one get such an interesting, challenging and dignified proposal? Having worked in a single field for 25 years – the police, the last eight years as an executive – it is sensible to accept new challenges if only to keep developing.

You saw working in the ranks of a convicted party as that challenge instead of fighting crime?

When party chairman Jüri Ratas called me and I met with the party’s board the next day, I can assure you that I was after certainty in terms of the party being seriously committed to rooting out corruption.

What gave you that certainty in the end?

I have always been fond of challenges. So, again, a new challenge to tackle.

Whence your conviction that the Center Party will change? Ratas has promised that the new Center Party is honest and clean before, while it seems today that the party has very much stuck to its old tricks.

I am starting with a clean slate and I want to add my contribution.

Does it not seem to you that you were made a clean mascot? You are already forced to answer questions on corruption and it is not a good look.

A person can be made to look bad only by something they did. That is what I believe. I have learned a lot in the past two weeks. A former colleague once said before a meeting that we should strap in and get moving. I fastened my seat belt two weeks ago and haven’t taken it off since. Therefore, it is a very interesting period in my life.

The term of [Director General of the Police and Border Guard Board] Elmar Vaher will end in two years. Why not wait, you would have made the perfect candidate for director general?

Returning to become PPA chief is no longer a possibility for me. I have been involved in running the organization for nearly a decade. I’m not sure that climbing that final rung would add much in terms of a challenge. This new calling is more interesting for me.

You are ruling out becoming PPA director general?

I am ruling out going from interior minister to PPA chief.

Jüri Ratas expects you to join the party. When will that happen?

We have not agreed on a date.

However, you promised Ratas you would join the party in exchange for the post of interior minister.

Yes, of course. I make no secret of the fact. I understand where the proposal came from and what their expectations are.

Does it need to happen before local government council elections?

That is one possible marker, yes.

You are a politician now. What is your ideology?

I admit that my worldview is still that of a police officer. After 25 years with the police, I believe Estonia needs to be a safe place for everyone, including people who want to come and live here. Looking at parties’ programs, none are bent on removing the blue, black and white from the Tall Hermann Tower. That is what matters to me above all. The flag on the Tall Hermann Tower, a free Estonia where everyone is safe.

Have you voted for the Center Party?

I admit that I cannot reliably remember. It is possible, while it has been a long time.

Would you support the marriage referendum?

No. It seems pointless to be honest. The state should not meddle in such affairs. Not at all.

Let us talk about the PPA crisis reserve. It is clear that your coalition partner [the Reform Party] and Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet do not hold it to be a sensible idea. You are in favor of its creation. Please explain why we need to spend €20 million on the reserve force.

Talking about the emergency reserve or additional assistant police officers, what matters is having certainty in terms of these volunteers being available in a crisis. There needs to be an obligation to show up, while their employers must also be obligated to let them go and ensure them their average salary. We have no such certainty today.

How will you tell police officers that you cannot raise their salaries because money is tight in a situation where you plan to spend €20 million on a parallel unit?

It is complicated. Indeed, talking about the salary of rescue workers, the minimum is just over €1,000 today.

When will police officers see a wage hike?

As soon as possible. I have no date to give you right now.

The new coalition agreement makes no mention of salary advance for police officers and rescuers, while the previous one did.

On the other hand, the coalition agreement includes appreciating front-line workers. The goal is to have front-line workers making 1.2 average salaries in three or four years’ time, while we will have a new government by then.

Estonian farmers were very cross last year when the government did not allow foreign labor into the country and losses were measured in millions. Can farmers count on foreign labor this year or would they be better off not planting strawberries?

It is a fact that Estonia needs foreign labor, whether we’re talking about seasonal or long-term work, including people who bring a lot of value added, such as IT professionals. While Estonians need to be ensured jobs first and foremost, I see no way around foreign labor.

Can you promise farmers that Ukrainians will be allowed in this summer?

We have already discussed it with [Minister of Rural Affairs] Urmas Kruuse and have put it on the agenda. The harvest going to waste would be the worst option. We cannot afford a situation where we do not have enough people to get the job done.

Moving on to the Estonia shipwreck investigation. Victims’ relatives are concerned that there will be another superficial investigation where no real effort is made to ascertain the truth. Can you promise that will not happen?

Suspicions need to be put to bed. I want the next of kin of MS Estonia victims to find peace of mind.

The previous interior minister said that dispelling all doubt would require lifting the hull off the seabed.

I’m not a specialist to be able to tell you how it could be achieved.

You own a recreational craft. Is it a speedboat, yacht or sailboat?

It is an inflatable boat 2.8 meters long that fits in a gym bag when packed. Estonian law requires one to register such a boat as a recreational craft.

What do you do with it?

I go fishing. I have another such boat for going to sea, lakes and rivers.

Will you have to forget about those hobbies now?

Definitely not. A person needs to have a way or a place to let off steam. One cannot spend one’s life commuting between one’s home and office.