Riigikogu select committee heads want amendments to workflows

Jürgen Ligi on his way to a select committee sitting.
Jürgen Ligi on his way to a select committee sitting. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The heads of the Riigikogu's state budget control and anti-corruption committees, Jürgen Ligi (Reform) and Katri Raik (SDE) respectively, are planning to submit proposals to amend the work of Riigikogu select committees in general, to curb coalition representatives boycotting meetings or sabotaging them in other ways.

Raik and Ligi's calls follow a controversial law firm deal signed between the Estonian state and a U.S. firm.

No coalition (Center, EKRE, Isamaa - ed.) MPs were present at the latest select committee sitting on Monday, which discussed the controversial deal signed by Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) with U.S. law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan. Both coalition and opposition MPs sit on the Riigikogu's committees; Raik and Ligi belong to opposition parties.

As August is a month of recess and vacations, many politicians invited to the sitting excused themselves by saying they were out of the country or had other obligations to attend to, including reportedly having their cars serviced. As all committees have a ratio of three coalition representatives to two from the opposition, there was no possibility of a quorum each time, meaning the sittings were not considered official.

The same move was used to sabotage a sitting in early August, as Martin Helme himself did not attend a sitting where he was supposed to report on the deal signed with the controversial law firm, headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who allegedly has multiple connections with Russian authorities.

Jürgen Ligi, a former finance minister, sees more issues in the current committee workflow. "The agenda gets disputed, extraordinary sittings are disputed ... people refuse to show up, refuse to hand over documents, forbid their officials or advisers to give statements, even forbid coalition representatives from showing up."

Select committees are the coalition's prime way of controlling governance, however. Currently, each Riigikogu political group assigns one representative to a select committee and the chair of each committee must belong to an opposition party.

Katri Raik, a former interior minister and head of the anti-corruption select committee, said she is planning to submit a proposal to Riigikogu leadership which would allow for another opposition politician in the committee, to even things out.

Raik explained: "The current scheme is clearly obstructing the opposition's work. In the long history of the country, there has been a situation where an opposition representative was added to create a balance, allowing for sufficient work."

According to Ligi, head of the state budget control committee, the amendments should be put into legislation to exclude monitoring obstructions.

Coalition politicians see no reason for amendments.

Henn Põlluaas (EKRE), speaker of the Riigikogu, said: "It would disturb parliamentary balance. We have stated in the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act that committee composition should be proportional to Riigikogu and it would objectively change the situation."

Priit Sibul, head of the Isamaa political group, said: "It seems reasonable for committee leaders and people who do not show up to take a look in the mirror - if some lines have been crossed or something is done out of order for the situation to be where it is now."

EKRE leaders have also expressed their desire for Ligi to fall from his position as head of the state budget control committee. Põlluaas noted that Ligi was Minister of Finance at the time most of the alleged money laundering took place and which led to Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan being hired to represent the state.

Põlluaas added: "There are many questions here that actually set Ligi's objectivity and legitimacy in doubt."


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte

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