Toomas Sildam: Drive to liquidate the ERJK is unfathomable

Toomas Sildam.
Toomas Sildam. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The bill tabled last week by the coalition government to remove the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) represented a thunderstorm in Estonia's otherwise clear, pandemic-era skies, senior ERR journalist Toomas Sildam says, while looking at the seeming unwillingness to take ownership of the bill by any of the three parties, and the rejection by Center that the move has anything to do with major financial precepts the ERJK has hit it with in recent years.

The amendment to the law initiated by the Center Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, which would abolish the ERJK and hand over its tasks to the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll), brought the week back to politics again.

In speaking to each other, Center Party members now point to the Isamaa, people from Isamaa to the Center Party, and EKRE people point to both government partners. 

Everyone is trying to give the impression that they are not the main authors of this first post-emergency bill, issued on May 18 (the emergency situation ended on May 17-ed.).

Why was it needed at all? This is incomprehensible. Some people in the ERJK may have been too emotional in their expressions, but in essence, the commission has done a good job. All disputes which have reached the courts so far have ended in victory for the ERJK (plus those awaiting a decision-ed.).

The desire to abolish the ERJK is the political will of the government coalition. The Center Party is the currently hardest hit, with many examples of obscure funding in the past to is name. The ERJK has also tarnished Isamaa, whose core voters do not understand what values ​​the party still stands for in the current government line-up. 

EKRE suffers the least, because they are able to tell their supporters how the (arch rivals-ed.) Social Democrats have a strong influence in the ERJK, making it not credible.

However, political opponents of Jüri Ratas' government are free to throw into the air the suspicion that the Center Party's desire revolves round ERJK precept, which would take more than a million euros from the prime minister party coffers.

The Center Party has challenged the ERJK, precept and the Supreme Court will begin hearing it in September. 

Although Ratas denies that there is any connection here, in politics such rejection does not mean that doubts that have already arisen have subsided.

Furthermore, as opponents claim, it is the Center Party that wants to write into law that cases older than three years will not be investigated in the future. 

At present, there is a big question mark hanging over the events that took place before the so-called Ratas era, in 2009-2016.

Is oversight of party funding in Estonia on firm ground, then? Yes, as far as the current law allows. Is there anything better that can be done? Yes, sure. 

It is absurd that party finance supervisors cannot, for example, interview a person who has donated €50 000 to a party whose official income report does not in any way indicate the possibility of such generosity. But the liquidators of the ERJK (i.e. the government-ed.) do not want to offer such an opportunity to the National Audit Office.

In any case, could the oversight of the finances of private households be the task of the National Audit Office at all? It is not certain that the President of the Republic, who assesses the constitutionality of the law, or the Supreme Court, which discusses the possible veto from the president, would think so.

And if such pessimism is unfounded, it was still ugly that the auditor general (Janar Holm-ed.) only heard about the government's plan in retrospect.

So why break the current funding oversight regime? In any case, the fact is that the coalition government has not been able to explain this clearly. 

Instead, the situation is reminiscent of the political temptation that our farmers have had to endure because of EKRE election slogans, as the government refuses to allow new foreign seasonal workers on to strawberry fields (a current issue as strawberry harvest seasons approaches but amends to the law will require seasonal labor from non-EU countries to return home-ed.).

In the case of the ERJK, however, political mistrust or resentment seems to overshadow rational thinking, versus the previously established monitoring committee.

One person close to the government said with irony how they see in all this a desire to replace the "old deep state" with a "new deep state". Quite a figurative observation, although the individual does not believe in the existence of a deep state at all.

At the same time, it is not right to be misled by the all-encompassing, vague explanation that any action by the government coalition constitutes the will of the people.

Jaanus Tehver, the President of the Bar Association (Eesti Advokatuur), refuted this justification in a recent domestic political interview: "The mere fact that a certain number of ballot papers has been placed in the ballot boxes on election day does not equate to a blank mandate for the person or party receiving the maximum number of votes (the single party to receive the largest number of votes at the March general election, Reform, is in opposition-ed.).

"Such a conclusion is logically unfounded, and demagogic in nature," Tehver added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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