Government claims work environment constructive

Jüri Ratas, Kaja Kallas. PHOTO: Kollaaž: Erik Prozes

Head of the Reform Party Riigikogu group Mart Võrklaev told the “Otse Postimehest” webcast that while more vocal members of the government may make it seem like the cabinet is wracked by major differences, that is not the atmosphere in Stenbock House. “If we can broach serious topics, highlight problems and take concrete steps, that is how work is supposed to be done,” he said.

It is difficult to claim the administration is without a certain tension. Auditor General Janar Holm recently criticized the government for lack of a public vaccination plan and rigid immunization organization. This prompted the PM to cut short her holiday and call on the carpet, so to speak, Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik. Could we describe that as amicable?

I do not know whether we can describe it as tension either. Being up to speed on these issues, I believe we are talking about constructive cooperation. Problems require the PM to talk to the minister in charge, seriously if need be. It is not just the problem of Tanel Kiik but the entire government and indeed the Estonian state and people.

I dare say the government is healthy. If we can broach serious topics, highlight problems and follow up with concrete steps, that is how work should be done.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas came across uninitiated in terms of the vaccination plan and its progress. And yet, Postimees’ information suggests Kallas and Kiik have met to discuss the situation on several occasions.

I know that Kaja Kallas regularly consults her ministers, including Tanel Kiik, when it comes to vaccination and other COVID-19-related topics. Specific actions in the vaccination plan and whether the PM was up to speed is something I cannot tell you.

A credible source has told Postimees that the Reform Party and Center Party have diametrically different views on how to solve the coronavirus crisis. Is that true?

I do not think they are completely different. We have a minister who is skeptical of vaccination (Minister of Culture Anneli Ott – ed.). The others sport a knowledge-based approach. We support vaccination and an open society. The Reform Party more than others when it comes to the latter.

Our source claims there is confusion even in the Riigikogu: while consensus is found with government ministers, they tend to say something else later on.

You have a very interesting source… The Reform Party has 34 and Center 25 MPs. It is clear they cannot all agree on every single thing. That said, our general policy has been agreed on the party, faction and coalition levels, and the government is executing that policy.

If a member talks to a minister from their party or the coalition partner and their wishes and opinions do not correspond to the general policy, it is clear not everything can be realized. However, there are no problems in terms of executing policy in the broad strokes or major differences. Questions and problems are solved in the coalition council.

While this question should rather be put to Tanel Kiik, was Secretary General of the Ministry of Social Affairs Marika Priske sacrificed to appease the public?

As you said, this question should indeed be put to Tanel Kiik. There have been problems with vaccination. Let us take if only the vaccination plan. Changes were clearly needed. The secretary general wields enough power in the ministry to improve organization of affairs. I sincerely hope things will improve after the switch.

The government is looking at tough negotiations come fall. In short: the state budget. Will Reform stick with its strict austerity policy from this spring?

The Reform Party wants state finances to be tidy. That is what we will be proceeding from regarding the state budget strategy (RES). In truth, a deficit of nearly a billion was planned over four years, with the previous RES prescribing cuts without any details. That was the plan already. It was simply that the new government would have had to find that saving.

We still favor orderly finances, while Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus can give you more detailed information. Let us also wait for the new economic forecast.

And should it be encouraging?

Let us wait for the forecast and see.

When the fiscal strategy was unveiled in spring, the Center Party told people that we will wait for the fall, that actual decisions remain in the future and cuts will not happen.

That is not strictly accurate. The strategy was put together between the partners. They were mutual agreements and understandings. The previous government ran by the Center Party wanted to revise the budget, which is what this government has done in reduced volume compared to the initial plan.