TALLINN – The motion of no confidence initiated by the Center Party and the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) against Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna failed in the vote taken in the Riigikogu on Thursday afternoon.
The motion against the Reform Party minister gathered 39 votes in favor and 33 votes against.
A majority of 51 votes is needed in the 101-seat chamber to remove a minister in a confidence vote. Nine MPs did not take part in the vote.
Center Party MP Marko Sorin, who introduced the motion of no confidence to the chamber, said that Kersna violated public procurement requirements when buying rapid coronavirus test kits for schools.
"She has caused economic damage to the state, created unjustified advantages for one particular company, undermined the business climate and the reputation of the Estonian state. The reasoning that the wish was to keep schools open is not enough, because there was nothing that prevented her from making a few more phone calls," Sorin said.
"In total, contracts were awarded in the amount of more than 8.7 million euros without organizing a public procurement procedure in accordance with the law, meaning in violation of the requirements of the public procurement procedure. The Ministry of Finance has also initiated misdemeanor proceedings in the case," the Center Party MP noted, adding that problems related to Estonian-language education and financing of higher education were also unresolved in Estonia.
Kersna meanwhile recalled that the government instructed the Ministry of Education and Research to start regular rapid testing of students aged 7-18 in schools from Nov. 1.
"That is, we had three full working days and two weekend days to organize the procurement of test kits and for the delivery of the kits to schools," Kersna said.
She explained that the State Shared Service Center, which usually organizes procurements, did not have the resources to carry out the procurement and the ministry had to organize it itself.
Two days later, on Oct. 28, the government allocated 7.5 million euros to the Ministry of Education and Research for the purchase of rapid test kits for schools. According to Kersna, the government gave her a clear guideline that a contract based on a negotiated procedure without prior publication with one undertaking may be concluded for a maximum of one month.
"That's what we did and the contract was signed," the minister said.
Kersna pointed out that as the ministry was only able to sign the contract for one month, it had to immediately start preparing the next tender.
"We asked the State Shared Service Center, which is responsible for public procurement in the country, for help already on November 4, but unfortunately they estimated that they did not have the resources to carry out an additional procurement at the moment. Once again we had to manage on our own," the minister said.
"It is true that now, at the end of the school year, I am in a situation where the Ministry of Finance, which is also part of the government, accuses me personally of two misdemeanors: the conduct of the second procurement by a negotiated procedure without prior publication, where the calls for tenders went to 17 businesses, and the fact that we expanded the existing framework contract, doing it on the recommendation of the State Shared Service Center. I have been assured that I have not been found guilty, but that an inquiry is underway," the minister added.