Court: Members of ERJK don't need to be independent from their party ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

ERJK's office.
ERJK's office. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian Supreme Court has explained that representatives of political parties in the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) are allowed to take part in the making of decisions that concern their party even if they are closely related to the party's day-to-day activities because they have been appointed to the committee to protect the interests of their party.

In March last year, Paul Puustusmaa, the then chairman of the extended board of the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE), participated as the party's representative at an ERJK meeting where a decision was made not to initiate proceedings into an alleged violation by EKRE concerning election advertising.

The police launched an investigation into the matter and decided that Puustusmaa had violated the Anti-corruption Act - as a member of the management or controlling body of EKRE, he should have withdrawn himself from the handling of an issue concerning his party. Puustusmaa was handed a pecuniary penalty of €400 for violating procedural restrictions.

The Harju County Court overturned the punishment, having decided that while Puustusmaa violated procedural restrictions, his violation was not severe and the misdemeanor proceedings were to be terminated on the grounds of expediency.

When Puustusmaa's attorney contested the judgement, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court discussed the misdemeanor case and decided that the politician had not violated the law or committed an offense. The Political Parties Act enables ERJK members to also participate in the committee's work when the issue at hand concerns the party who appointed them and if their actively participate in said party's activities.

According to the Supreme Court judgement, the law does not require impartiality from ERJK members or independence from the political force that appointed them. The integrity and objectivity of ERJK is guaranteed by each parliamentary party appointing one member to the committee. The chancellor of justice, auditor general and National Electoral Committee also each appoint their representative to the committee to balance out its political party affiliated members. Such committee make-up also helps prevent any of the political parties gaining sole control over ERJK.

The purpose of having representatives of parties with opposing interests in the committee is for them to balance each other out and point out possible problems regarding the financing or their competitors. According to the Supreme Court, political parties are the ones who are best acquainted with practices in party financing, and their representatives are well equipped and motivated to notice their competitors' irregularities and deviations from the law. Political parties being allowed to take part in the making of decisions that concern them is one of the factors that should improve acceptance of ERJK precepts and requirements.

The Supreme Court underscored that a member of the committee representing a political party must not take part in the resolution of issues concerning themselves, their next of kin or their enterprises, however

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Editor: Helen Wright

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