Conservative People's Party (EKRE) chair and interior minister Mart Helme hit out at the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) Wednesday, at the government's regular question time before the Riigikogu. Opposition Reform Party MP said that Helme's claims, including that the ERJK had singled-out EKRE and Center in their work, reveal the real reason for the government's attempt to abolish the organization.
"As for this bill, which concerns the liquidation of the ERJK, yes, I admit, I had already wanted it during the previous [XIII] Riigikogu. At that time, we had no prospect of it going anywhere and resulting in a debate within society," Helme told the Riigikogu.
Helme said that while he was not directly involved in the drafting of the draft, he had given his "ideological" approval to it.
Helme expressed neutrality concerns over the ERJK given its head is an opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) member, and former MP and minister (ERJK membership is barred to sitting MPs-ed.).
"[The ERJK] has regularly exceeded its powers by demanding documents and demanding a report on matters outside their remit. If we were to take a logbook and look back through time, we could see that there have been two parties that have been under fire all the time.
These have been the Center Party and EKRE," he went on, adding in EKRE's case this was irrelevant since nothing had been proven.
Prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center) say the ERJK's tasks might be better fulfilled by the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll), who would take on the role if the bill the government has presented passes, and which would also abolish the ERJK.
Critics say the move is an effort by Center to dodge impending fines of over €1 million due in the fall – the bill would also wipe the slate clean on fines over alleged infractions which were over three years old.
Taavi Rõivas: Helme has let cat out of bag over real motivation for ERJK removal
Reform MP and former prime minister Taavi Rõivas has revealed the true motivation for the move to abolish the ERJK.
"Among your motives, you highlight what has happened to your party or a foundation close to you from a worldview perspective. Thank you for making these motives clearer," Rõivas said Wednesday.
"It was very necessary for someone to finally say it honestly. So far, there have been several politicians who has defended, including Kert Kingo, the rumor that it is necessary to make the supervision of party funding much more effective, but you essentially said that it has been too effective, "said Rõivas.
Ratas: Audit office would strengthen supervision
The prime minister, also appearing before parliament to answer questions, reiterated his claims that placing the area of party finance monitoring under the audit office's remit would enhance the job.
He also said that all ongoing proceedings should be resolved and not wiped, though the three year time limit before that happened could be extended in the bill further.
Ratas did however hit out at the ERJK's activities and said it had exceeded its powers, including looking at political campaigns between elections funded by the party itself.
Ratas also said the ERJK had picked on family values body the Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition (SAPTK) unfairly.
"We have a nice body like the SAPTK, which is not a political party and does not have to report to the ERJK, yet this committee has had the audacity to demand reports from this foundation (i.e. the SAPTK-ed.) too."
Taavi Rõivas, however, rebutted the bias claim over the ERJK by pointing out representatives of all parties, including EKRE, sit on the committee.
Ratas also said that moving the ERJK's responsibilities to the audit office would not mean no more monitoring of private party donations – as opposed to state subsidies all elected parties are entitled to - would take place.
Last week, the prosecutor's office launched an investigation into a €50,000 donation from a private citizen to Center after concerns were raised over the origins of the money and to what extent it was a quid pro quo. The nominal donor was a businesswoman whom critics said was unlikely to have reason, or even the wherewithal, to give such a large sum, over 50 percent of Center's donations in the first quarter of 2020.
The penalties due to Center include earlier, allegedly illicit donations.
The government's bill to abolish the ERJK was filibustered beyond the stage where it could pass before the Riigikogu breaks up for summer tomorrow, Thursday, by SDE, also in opposition.
SDE presented 50,000 amendments to the bill, which will now have to wait until the fall session for its readings.
Editor: Andrew Whyte