TALLINN - Social Affairs Minister Maret Maripuu has said that she will step down in late February despite surviving a Jan. 22 vote of no-confidence.
Maripuu had received harsh criticism from opposition parties over a failed disability payment scheme that saw pension payments delayed for several months. "I will resign so the government can go on with important social reforms," the minister announced in a statement.
"I knew when I accepted the ministerial job that this task will not be an easy one, yet I believe that without changing the ungainly social system our state will find itself in trouble soon."
Maripuu said that one of her central goals was to turn the blanket-style and wasteful welfare system 's which at times seems similar to the Soviet system 's into a system capable of making sure that help reaches those who are truly in need.
"It's absolutely unfitting of a country celebrating the present year as a year of innovation and seeking world renown as an e-state that attempts have been made to thrash the transition to the payment of pensions via bank accounts, which is absolutely the norm in the Nordic countries," she said.
The minister reportedly told lawmakers she intends to resign on Feb. 23 after becoming personally convinced that the reforms undertaken by her are effectively working, and that everyone who is entitled to a benefit gets their money at the established time.
Center Party Chairwoman Vilja Savisaar, who handed in the motion of no-confidence on behalf of three opposition parties, previously told The Baltic Times that the minister should "take responsibility" for the failed payments.
"The Social Minister is to take responsibility for the delay with disability payments. The payments have been delayed for several monthsâ€¦ It's hard to believe that the Social Minister can handle the situation," the opposition leader said.
"The Minister of Social Affairs is not capable or willing to solve dragging problems from her field," she said.
The minister survived the Jan. 23 motion of no-confidence by a vote of 35 in favor to 51 against. At least 51 votes in favor would have been needed to strip the minister of her job.
The bill accused Maripuu of administrative incompetence in directing ministry affairs, saying that the minister took too long to inform the public about the payment problems. It also accused her of lying to the public and showing carelessness toward the people directly affected by her decisions.
The criticism is primarily related to the non-payment of disability benefits for several months as a result of the introduction of an underdeveloped new IT system and shortcomings in the introduction of a new pension payment and home delivery system.
Though no replacement for the minister had been named by the time The Baltic Times went to press, there was speculation over a possible trading of ministry portfolios.
Reform Party Chairman Karel Ruutli was reported by the Baltic News Service as saying that the Social Democrats should take over the Social Affairs Ministry. In exchange, he said that the Reform Party should take over the Finance Ministry.
Ruutli said the current Finance Minister, Ivari Padar, has announced plans to run in the European Parliament elections in June, and will thus not be politically responsible for his present decisions.