On the orders of the minister of finance, the state immediately halted funding to three projects promoting equality. Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) says that the minister's order isn't lawful, and believes that this was a political action on his coalition partner's part.
Support is paid out to the Ministry of Social Affairs' strategic partners on a quarterly basis. They were supposed to receive their latest support payments last Friday, however, before they could, the State Shared Service Center (RTK) received a letter in which Minister of Foreign Trade and IT Raul Siem (EKRE), in his capacity as acting finance minister while Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) is on vacation, said that three of the Ministry of Social Affairs' partners may no longer be sent money.
The ministry's strategic partners are paid support financed from the gambling tax. Referring to a memo released by the National Audit Office last year, Siem noted that this money can only be used for very specific purposes, and stated that the development of equality policy is not included among them. RTK unit director Marek Atonen said that following the minister's order, the center had no other choice.
"A solution would be the Ministry of Social Affairs specifying another source, and it would actually be possible to make these payments tomorrow," Atonen told ERR.
At the same time, however, he admitted that no agreements had been reached yet. Thus the Estonian Women's Associations Roundtable, the Estonian Women's Studies and Resource Center and the Estonian Human Rights Center have essentially been placed on hold.
Kiik believes that the finance minister's order has infringed upon these partners' legitimate expectations.
"We believe that this specific decision to halt payments under already concluded agreements halfway through the financial year isn't lawful," Kiik said. "This isn't dignified behavior on the state's part, and we certainly cannot accept it."
He added that if their coalition partner believes that funding for supporting associations should be found from the Ministry of Social Affairs' budget, it must first allocate this money to the ministry.
"Whether that is from the government reserve, or whether it's out of next year's state budget," he continued. "But not by violating the principle of legitimate expectations, violating the principles of dignified state governance, simply unilaterally informing of an arbitrary decision that has no legal justification."
Kiik said that the next step will be the Ministry of Social Affairs drawing up a written response to the Ministry of Finance.
"I find this to be a very strange approach, that the minister of finance has initiated such clearly political actions that have nothing to do with the law via letter, unilaterally, without any polite advance warning, without having met with me or even just a phone call," he said.
What will happen if the minister of finance does not change his stance and the Ministry of Social Affairs likewise isn't given any additional funding?
"Once again, these organizations have a legitimate expectation of receiving this funding," Kiik said. "I have yet to meet a jurist who would claim otherwise. From a state perspective, this is undignified behavior, and this is a situation in which several organizations will now have the right to take the state to court. I believe that it would be wise of all of us to avoid such a situation."
ERR also asked Kiik why he believes that his coalition partner would make such a decision.
"I'd ask rhetorically in return that if the National Audit Office had stated that funding to the corresponding field should be doubled, would the minister of finance have sent me a letter seeking for this to happen," the social affairs minister responded. "I'm willing to doubt that."
Editor: Aili Vahtla