Center withdraws party finances watchdog removal bill

Center Party MPs at the Riigikogu.
Center Party MPs at the Riigikogu. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Center Party has ditched a controversial bill which would have placed the body responsible for party financing oversight under the National Audit Office's (Riigikontroll) remit, in another case of in-process legislation being ditched following the collapse of the coalition last week.

Center's Riigikogu group leader Kersti Sarapuu told the chamber's Constitutional Committee that it that it was withdrawing the bill.

Center MP Jaanus Karilaid told ERR Tuesday that he would continue the issue of "strengthening" the body, the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) in the ongoing coalition talks with the Reform Party, adding that the parties were also planning new bills. 

Karilaid said: "We have this working group between the Center Party and the Reform Party on Thursday. So the details and directions on how to proceed will be clear on Thursday."

Bill paralyzed since summer

"The goal was to strengthen the supervision of party funding and bring it to the State Audit Office, today this debate is paralyzed," he added.

The bill was the subject of a Social Democratic Party (SDE) filibuster last summer and had laid dormant since then.

With last week's resignation of Jüri Ratas as prime minister, Center started negotiations with the Reform Party to install a new cabinet, with Kaja Kallas (Reform) as prime minister.

Ratas' resignation followed charges of influence peddling and bribery around a state loan to a Tallinn real estate development, which implicated the Center Party. The party also has a suspended sentence to its name relating to a major donation later declared illicit, and last year had to return a €50,000 donation for similar reasons.

SDE MP: ERJK capacity needs strengthening

SDE MP and constitutional committee deputy chair Lauri Läänemets said Center's move had been the right one, adding the ERJK's capabilities should be bolstered, not removed.

Läänemets said: "The bill which the Center Party withdrew its signature from would have abolished a control system which has repeatedly proved its worth, and further reduced safeguards aimed at preventing corruption."

Sanctions as they are are not implemented effectively, he added, including no facility to withhold state support which elected political parties receive, if a party violated the law, and no burden of proof on major donors as things stand.

The ERJK itself, together with the Chancellor of Justice, have in recent years attempted to plug these gaps in its addresses to the Riigikogu and the constitutional committee, but no corresponding legislation has yet come into force, Läänemets went on.

 SDE launched new bill to tighten up party finances

SDE initiated a bill on Monday which would set a ceiling on election campaign spend – a frequent source of controversy – at all three levels of elections: Riigikogu, local and European.

The bill to liquidate the ERJK was tabled by Center, along with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, last May. Isamaa and EKRE have found themselves in opposition shortly, following last week's collapse of the coalition.

SDE tabled around 50,000 amendments to the bill last June, highlighting the point by presenting a stack of papers representing, though not containing (this would have been done electronically) the amendments.

Reform and SDE together adopted a similar policy with over 9,000 amendments to a now-defunct bill which would have initiated a referendum on the definition of marriage in domestic legislation.

Critics of the ERJK say that it is unduly influenced by the SDE as it is; the body is headed up by Liisa Oviir, a former SDE entrepreneurship minister.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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