State budget party 'protection money' recipients announced late November ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Toompea, seat of the Riigikogu.
Toompea, seat of the Riigikogu. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

While recipients of the state's controversial "protection money" (Katuseraha) for 2021, part of the state budget process, have not been decided yet, the practise is likely to continue, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Wednesday evening.

"Naturally I proposed both last year and in the [state budget] negotiations this year that the coalition should not issue this six million (this year's figure - ed.), but put that money somewhere else, or save it," finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) told AK.

"However, it is no secret that protection money is a very popular thing, especially among MPs (government ministers do not sit in the Riigikogu – ed.), and in fact others in the coalition did not pass on it either," he went on.

The €6 million has been earmarked as protection money for 2021, with recipients – usually a wide variety of projects including improvements to schools, sports centers, social care centers and even churches – to be announced in November.

The practice of protection money, which acts as a sort of grease in the state budget process – agreed by the cabinet in late September and spending much of the rest of the year at the Riigikogu for debating, before a final vote in December – dates back to the 1990s, veteran politician and former Riigikogu speaker Eiki Nestor (SDE) says.

Protection money a practise dating back to 1990s

The practice of protection money, which acts as a sort of grease in the state budget process – agreed by the cabinet in late September and spending much of the rest of the year at the Riigikogu for debating, before a final vote in December – dates back to the 1990s, veteran politician and former Riigikogu speaker Eiki Nestor (SDE) says.

The practise also gets round MPs tinkering with the budget as it passes through the Riigikogu, in favor of districts where their party is strong, and funds are weighted in favor of the coalition parties – currently Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa.

Reform Party opted out of system

The opposition Reform Party opted out of the scheme last year, with leading MP and former finance minister Jürgen Ligi calling protection money a form of corruption.

Reform's leader, Kaja Kallas, told AK the party's Riigikogu grouping is to discuss their stance at the beginning of next week, adding that the principle of opposition to protection money remains in place.

Another factor for 2021 is the local elections taking place in autumn, though the Riigikogu finance committee's chair, Aivar Kokk, told AK that he did not think this was a major factor in the doling out of protection money this year.

"Efforts are being made to support active communities in [parties'] constituencies, but it's hardly the case that people vote one way or another as a result," Kokk said.

Eiki Nestor, whose party, the Social Democrats (SDE), said protection money could be distributed more fairly if the Riigikogu were to agree on some best practices, to avoid vote-buying or conflicts of interest.

Martin Helme said the €6 million made up such a small part of the €13-billion state budget that he did not believe parliament will ever dispense with the practise.

"It is very important to MPs, who can relay very specific things about their constituencies to the parliament. I am not optimistic that it will ever disappear," he told AK.

The state budget gets its first reading in the penultimate week of October, with the second reading to follow in mid-to-late November (Riigikogu bills get three readings before passing, or not passing, into law – ed.). Protection money is to be discussed between it and the third reading.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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