Prime minister: Why doubt audit office as party finance watchdog?

Jüri Ratas
Jüri Ratas Source: ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has expressed surprise over the transfer of the duties until now carried out by the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK), to the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll), and what he said was the implied questioning of the latter's competence and credibility.

As reported on ERR News, the three coalition parties on Monday initiated the disbanding of the ERJK and delegating its tasks to the National Audit Office. The prime minister said the move, far from harming the sphere of party financing oversight, would rationalize it and make it more effective. The prime minister was careful only to tacitly criticize the ERJK's work, something interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) voiced more unequivocally.

"I'm a bit surprised at the credibility and competence of the National Audit Office ... being called into question. I don't understand this, because the National Audit Office has always been independent and very professional," Ratas said Thursday, according to BNS.

"And if there are doubts that certain proceedings will not be transferred to the audit office,  and will be discontinued, this is absurd, it cannot be so," he went on, speaking at the regular Thursday morning government press conference.

"Sometimes it is the case that things can be done better still. And bringing oversight over party financing from the level of ERJK into the competence of the National Audit Office will definitely raise credibility, capability and quality," Ratas continued.

Ratas said that the ERJK had worked well, though went on to point to potential conflicts of interests.

"The ERJK has been doing its work and I have nothing bad to say, but there have also been situations where a former chairman of ERJK has received remuneration from one political party. And there have been problems there as well," he added.

ERJK chairman Liisa Oviir  is a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE). However, the body also has board members from Center (Kersti Sarapuu), EKRE (Siim Pohlak) and Isama (Priit Sibul).

Interior minister: ERJK not a credible body

EKRE chair and interior minister Mart Helme said the ERJK has not been very credible to date.

"When two leading members of the committee are connected with the Social Democratic Party (Helme was probably referring to vice chair Kaarel Tarand, who is not a current SDE member, but whose brother, Indrek, ran for the party in last year's European elections-ed.). When this institution has forever been trying to overstep its powers. For instance, what statutory right did the ERJK have to demand information from the Objektiiv portal and SAPTK. These are not political parties," Helme enquired.

The Foundation for the Protection of the Family and Tradition (SAPTK), run by Varro Vooglaid, operates the Objektiiv portal, whose supporters are often seen to overlap with that those of EKRE, although it is unconnected and has on occasion criticized EKRE in office.

Helme added ERJK had very clearly become politicized within a very narrow band of political ideology, a temptation the audit office was less likely to succumb to, he said.

"In our opinion, the National Audit Office is much more balanced, and all this fuss about us trying to cover up something is absolutely not satisfactory," Helme continued, according to BNS.

Justice minister: Third attempt at resolving the matter

"However, the [then-] chancellor of justice [Indrek Teder], said back then that in his opinion, vesting the duty of oversight over party financing with the National Audit Office would be most appropriate."

Aeg recalled that in 2018, a round-table was formed at the Ministry of Justice to analyze the same topic, which then sent a letter to the Riigikogu constitutional committee with the proposal of tasking the National Audit Office with oversight over the financing of political parties. 

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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