TALLINN - Edgar Savisaar, minister of economic affairs and communications, grabbed the spotlight last week after making a controversial appointment for an advisor and announcing plans for a new ferry link.
Savisaar's appointment of Oleg Harlamov, a local businessman, was seen as controversial since the latter's public relations company has supported companies that are currently in conflict with Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway), the country's largest rail operator. Opposition politicians said Harlamov, an ethnic Russian, would only protect interests of Russian companies while working under Savisaar.
"If Harlamov's public relations firm SKF Priori consults the Spacecom rail company, a company created by Russian capital, and goes to court to impose its demands on Estonian Railway, this raises a number of questions," Helir-Valdur Seeder, an MP from the right-wing Pro Patria Union, told the Postimees daily.
Spacecom is a Russia-owned transit operator that has locked horns with Estonian Railway over transit and infrastructure fees. Its CEO, Oleg Osinovsky, was recently detained by police on suspicion that he concluded a cartel agreement with 's of all companies 's Estonian Railways. No executives of the latter company were detained.
For his part, Harlamov denied serving Russian interests and promised that he would sell his holding in the public relations firm to current CEO Maarika Roomere. Another owner of the company is Andrus Kuusmann, managing director of the Transit Association.
Savisaar has not hidden his disapproval of the Estonian Railway privatization and referred to it last week in context of a possible sell-off of the state's remaining interest in Estonian Airways. "The privatization of Estonian Railway is a warning sign, and the sale of whatever state shareholding has to be weighed and analyzed with utmost care so that the state's interests will be protected in the long run," he said.
Specifically, the minister was referring to the state's 34 percent stake in Estonian Air, which the ministry will study to determine whether the state should sell. A final decision is not expected until the end of the year.
"The ministry will, by this fall, conduct an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of selling the shareholding, as well as of not selling it. Based on the outcome of the analysis, we will present our position to the government in October this year," Savisaar was quoted as saying two weeks ago.
"The sell-off of the shareholding in Estonian Air is being considered because being an owner of minority shares the state has relatively little say in the company's management," Savisaar said.
SAS, which owns 49 percent of Estonian Air, has previously said it wishes to acquire the airline.
Meanwhile, Savisaar told the Baltic News Service last week that his ministry was planning to announce a new tender for a ferry link to the western islands. "We are planning to work out the terms of the tender by June and will announce the tender then," he said May 6. The state currently subsidizes the lone ferry link to the islands - Saaremaa Shipping - which costs some 30 million kroons (1.9 million euros) per quarter.
Last year's attempt to hold a tender failed, as did negotiations with Saaremaa Shipping to work out a new contract. As a result, the state signed a two-year contract with the company, and one minister had to resign due to the entire ordeal.