Reiljan free of blame for oil spill

  • 2006-02-22
  • From wire reports
TALLINN - Few were surprised when Parliament's motion of no-confidence against Environment Minister Villu Reiljan failed on Feb. 15, as there had been little support for the move in the first place. Thirty nine deputies backed the motion, which was initiated by opposition parties Res Publica and Pro Patria Union, with no votes against or abstentions. At least 51 votes were needed for the motion to be carried in the 101-seat chamber.

The opposition is blaming Reiljan, a member of the People's Union, for failing to meet his duties as environment minister when dealing with last month's oil spill. The accident off the coast killed thousands of sea birds, leading experts to call it the nation's worst environmental disaster.

An indignant Marko Pomerants, Res Publica faction chairman, handed in the final draft of no-confidence, which included the signatures of 32 MPs.

During his remarks before lawmakers, Reiljan said only the party that caused the spill could be held responsible for the pollution, nobody else.

"In regards to pollution-fighting capabilities, apparently all governments bear a portion of the guilt, and maybe I, too, haven't pursued intense enough cooperation with the other ministry," he said, referring to the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of detecting sea pollution. The ministry operates as the Border Guard's supervising authority.

According to Reiljan, while efforts to ensure the detection and removal of oil pollution at sea have brought certain success, it is not enough.

"More and more ships are sailing in the Baltic Sea, and the risk of pollution is growing," he said.

The recent disaster sent off siren bells for politicians. Finally, they may realize that money, human resources and competence must be attained at once in order to prevent further such incidents, the minister added.

In the past, several members of the Interior Ministry, as well as Reiljan, have highlighted the government's need to boost environmental investments. "Unfortunately, that risk has been underestimated," he said.

While not blaming Reiljan for the massive pollution, the opposition reproached the minister for the country's insufficient preparedness to deal with such environmental disasters, slow communication and failure to act when the reports first surfaced.

"The state and environmental ministry's ability to deal with the oil spill, and plan activities related to it are without any doubt well known to him," the motion reads.

"The opposition believes that the party with direct responsibility in matters of the environment is the minister himself. Villu Reiljan's long record as a member of different governments has provided him with every opportunity to deal with the topic, but he has mismanaged his job," it said, mentioning that Reiljan had held his position for almost eight years.