Estonia may replace oath for officials

  • 2000-12-14
TALLINN, (BNS) - The Estonian Interior Ministry has sent to the government several bills seeking to retain the possibility to perform background checks on senior officials even after the oath of conscience requirement is dropped starting next year.

The Interior Ministry has submitted to the government bills of amendment to the State Audit Office Act, the Judge Chancellor Act, the Bank of Estonia Act, the State Defense in Peace Time Act and the Surveillance Act, spokespersons for the Interior Ministry told the Baltic News Service.

According to the amendments, nominees for state auditor, judge chancellor, chairman and members of the council of the Bank of Estonia, president of the Bank of Estonia and commander in chief of the defense forces would have to undergo background checks before appointment.

The goal of the security checks is to determine whether the person is a suitable candidate for the post in security terms and whether he can be given access to top secret information, the spokespersons said.

They added that a person's getting the security clearance would effectively be equal to his taking an oath of conscience, as in the course of checks the person's possible links to foreign intelligence and security bodies, his possible work for intelligence and security agencies of countries that have occupied Estonia would be investigated.

A spokesperson for the national security police said Dec. 11 that the security police currently performs background checks on candidates for judges and people seeking clearance for work with state secrets but doesn't check people working at constitutional institutions.

Since experts in public law have said that a situation where the national security police performs checks on constitutional institutions is something that has to be avoided, the bills suggest that candidates would be checked by security police before their appointment, the spokesperson told BNS.

The bills first have to be approved by the government, which would then send them to Parliament for passage.

Mart Nutt, member of Parliament's constitutional law committee, said last week it was possible to partially extend the requirement for the taking of an oath by public servants.

Nutt said that it would no longer be possible to apply the requirement of an oath to those appointed to posts in the public service as of next year, but some additional analysis would be required concerning persons elected by the people.

It is stated in the Implementation Act of the Estonian Constitution that until December 31, 2000, a candidate for any elected or appointed office in a national- or local-government body must take a written oath that he or she has not collaborated with intelligence agencies of countries that have occupied Estonia.

Some ruling coalition MPs have meanwhile introduced a bill seeking to extend the requirement for an oath of conscience, but the general assumption now is that such a change would require changing the constitution.