Estonian party finance supervisory committee bans convicted criminals from its meetings; Toobal claims such a restriction unlawful (1)

Gone, but still keeping the party busy: Priit Toobal was found guilty of having conducted unauthorized surveillance and falsifying documents as a public official in 2014. He has since left politics. (Postimees/Scanpix)
4/20/2016 4:50 PM
Source: BNS, ERR
Category: News

The Estonian Supervisory Committee on Party Financing adopted changes to the committee’s rules of procedure on Wednesday, according to which persons punished pursuant to criminal procedure would be banned from the committee’s meetings. Toobal found, however, that current laws did not allow for such a restriction.

The Estonian Supervisory Committee on Party Financing adopted changes to the committee’s rules of procedure on Wednesday, according to which persons punished pursuant to criminal procedure would be banned from the committee’s meetings.

Committee Deputy Chairman Kaarel Tarand told BNS that at what was to be its final meeting with its current makeup, the committee adopted two changes to its rules of procedure.

According to Tarand, the committee decided that persons with a criminal punishment in force cannot take part in the committee’s meetings.

This move came after the Center Party appointed its Secretary General Priit Toobal as the party’s representative to the supervisory committee in late March, a decision criticized as a “bad joke” that undermined the committee’s integrity by Transparency International. Toobal had been found guilty of both unauthorized surveillance and of having falsified documents in his role as a public official in 2014.

Five parliamentary groups of the Riigikogu — the Social Democratic Party (SDE), the Reform Party, Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), Free Party, and the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) — had introduced a bill in early April to amend the Political Parties Act to prohibit anyone who has been sentenced by the courts from being appointed to the Supervisory Committee on Party Financing. The bill, which has yet to pass, would also ban from the committee anyone who had been legally barred from certain professions or activity in certain areas of life.

“Until the legislative body deals with the issue on its own, we have adopted certain restrictions internally,” said Tarand. The same restriction was also implemented in other administrative bodies as well, he added, saying that, “In supervision, such a restriction is important.”

The deputy chairman reported that all eight members of the committee who took part in the meeting voted in favor of the change, including the representative of the Center Party.

The other change approved by the supervisory committee on Wednesday dictates that individuals with a conflict of interests are not allowed to take part in the discussion of points on the agenda that concern them. According to Tarand, the restriction concerned members of the boards and secretaries general of political parties, among others — in other words, people who were in charge of party finances.

The deputy chairman noted that thus far, members of the committee had followed good practice in such situations, but the committee had decided to make the wording more explicit and add the requirement that in case of a conflict of interests, the committee member involved must leave the room.

The Estonian Supervisory Committee on Party Financing consists of appointees of the Chancellor of Justice, the National Auditor, the National Electoral Committee, and one representative from each of the political parties represented in the Riigikogu. The current committee’s term ends at the end of April this year.

Toobal: Current laws do not prohibit my membership

The Center Party’s Secretary General Priit Toobal commented on the decision by the Estonian Supervisory Committee on Party Financing, saying that current laws did not prohibit his being a member of the committee, and thus it was impossible for the committee to prohibit him with an internal working document either.

“I would like to point out the fact that the authority of a committee member derives from their appointment to the position, which, as we know, is done according to law,” explained Toobal. “Thus, as has been repeatedly explained to the public recently, current laws do not allow in any case for the restriction of a committee member’s authority in fulfilling their duties, let alone by an internal working document of a committee that is subordinate to the law.”

Toobal added that by substituting existing laws with personal convictions, the committee had, with Wednesday's adoption of changes to committee rules, trashed the principles of rule of law and the legality of state authority.

In a press release, Toobal asked what the committee was afraid of, and whether it was perhaps the fact that the it would now have to actually begin addressing issues regarding coalition parties’ funding.

In the secretary general’s opinion, the supervisory committee’s changes to its rules of procedure proved that it was a political committee, not an independent inspector.

“My commission begins on April 28, and I plan on taking active part in the committee’s operation,” noted Toobal. “I eagerly await its first session.”

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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