Opposition MPs hit out at state budget pandemic inadequacies

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SDE chairman Indrek Saar. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Leading members of the two opposition parties have criticized the 2021 state budget, which passed its third reading at the Riigikogu Wednesday, meaning it has entered into force.

The budget favors the strongest in society, promotes retrograde values, and is setting up structural deficit issues to be picked up by the next administration, opposition members say. At the same time it does not do anything like enough to alleviate the problems caused by the pandemic, they say.

The Social Democratic Party (SDE) Wednesday voted against adopting the 2021 budget – which passed by 55 votes to 44 (SDE has 10 seats at present, in the 101-seat Riigikogu, the Reform Party 34 – ed.), with the party's leader saying that it does not do enough to protect public health, particularly during a pandemic.

Saar said: "For almost three months, SDE had to put pressure on the government coalition with regard to sick day compensation, and now €2.5 million has been allocated for this purpose. It is deeply incomprehensible why the first days of illness are only reimbursed from 1 January, however. I am convinced that our current infection rates could be significantly lower if this decision were not several months late, as with many other basic prevention activities."

Reform Party MP and former finance minister Jürgen Ligi said that the issues lay with structural budget deficit.

Ligi said: "[We are] the only nation that will worsen its budget next year, when growth is forecast. We have the fastest credit growth and we have the biggest structural deficit. It is the latter that goes very far beyond its means, and will not peter out itself – it will lead to very difficult decisions for future governments."

Indrek Saar said that the first three sick days, which people still have to in effect cover for themselves financially, until year end, illustrates how the effects of the crisis have increasingly been shifted onto the shoulders of the weak, since higher earners can often work remotely due to the nature of their jobs or their resources.

Saar: Coalition parties' friends the main beneficiaries

"Ultimately, via a snowballing effect, this reaches society as a whole in the form of a [rising] infection rate," Saar said, noting that there had been no problem finding funds for large companies with good relations with one of the three coalition parties, or NGOs that promote the same worldview as the party in question.

Saar was obliquely referring to KredEx loans, such as the €37 million summed to the Porto Franco real estate development, despite the fact that, as an unfinished project, it is not obvious how the business has been negatively impacted by the pandemic in a major way – the usual criteria for the state aid unveiled in a supplementary budget in spring.

The NGOs Saar hinted at would include an anti-abortion group founded in August, which has held one rally and which received €171,000 (previously reported at €141,000 – ed.), making it the largest single beneficiary of the government parties' "protection money" funds, announced ahead of the budget vote.

Saar added that the budget should have supported the hard-hit tourism sector and raised the tax threshold on the minimum wage, provide solutions to care home costs and boost teachers salaries at a time when they are struggling under a heavy workload.

A planned referendum on the definition of marriage as presented in a bill to be voted on by all three coalition parties – Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa – will cost €2 million Saar added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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