Auditor General: Independence of the audit office should not be in doubt
Auditor General Janar Holm said the supervision of the financing of political parties will certainly be achieved if the Riigikogu assigns the role to the National Audit Office, but linking the agency to party politics may damage its credibility.
In mid-May, the coalition parties initiated the liquidation of the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (Erakondade rahastamise järelevalve komisjon /ERJK) and assigned its tasks to the National Audit Office. The plan has been sharply criticized by the opposition parties Reform and the Social Democrats.
Holm said he is "very cautious" about transferring supervision. "The key question is: What is the problem that is being addressed [here] because we think the commission has done a good job - what is the even higher quality [that can be achieved]," Holm said on Wednesday on Vikerraadio's "Reporteritund".
Holm is concerned about the change in the "nature of state control". "It is not in our nature to audit NGOs which are not connected to the state in this way, or simply to control private money. This would fundamentally change the nature of the state audit. I am afraid that it will define the role of the state audit, and we will enter the world of party politics," he said.
Holm said the most important thing in the case of the National Audit Office is the independence in choosing the object of the audit and giving an assessment.
"And if there is no independence to make choices, then the National Audit Office's assessment is less reliable. If there is an issue which could call into question our political independence, we are in a completely different situation than we are now," he said.
According to the law, additional tasks assigned to the audit office must not harm the main activities of the agency, they must be related to the main activities and there must be an unavoidable reason for assigning additional tasks. Holm hopes the discussion in the Riigikogu will assess these three factors.
The Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) has also requested an assessment of the constitutionality of delegating the tasks of the ERJK to the audit office.
Holm said the audit office will certainly be able to supervise the financing of political parties, but this would require changes in the organization and the creation of a new department.
At the same time, according to him, the possibility that the Auditor General should be invited to answer questions on the supervision of funding in the Riigikogu should be eliminated, because then there is a risk the National Audit Office will become a political tool. "If I wanted to get involved in politics, I would join a party," Holm said.
According to Holm, the statement that the audit office could better manage supervision than the ERJK with its resources remains somewhat confusing.
"Assuming the commission has the same opportunities and the same resources, we will do our best to address this issue as intensively. If there is a desire to control this more effectively, the same committee has made proposals on how to amend the Political Parties Act in order to have an even better overview of party funding. It would be particularly useful to provide additional opportunities for financial control," said Holm.
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Editor: Helen Wright