Transparency International calls for boosting party finance watchdog powers

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Steven-Hristo Evestus of Transparency International Estonia. Source: ERR/ Anna-Maria Kurrel

Anti-corruption civil society Transparency International Estonia (Koruptsioonivaba Eesti) has called for boosting the powers of the body tasked with monitoring party finances. The Center Party had previously tried to abolish the watchdog.

Transparency International Estonia sent their proposal to representatives of the Reform and Center parties, currently holding coalition negotiations, and said that the Supervisory Committee on Party Financing (ERJK) should have wider responsibilities. The organization had already lobbied the Riigikogu on the same matter last summer.

Steven-Hristo Evestus, board member at Transparency International Estonia, said: "As the current situation is motivated by the suspicions of crime presented by the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Internal Security Service (ISS) on January 12, we consider it extremely important that Estonian society needs clear steps that condemn all forms of corruption and increase transparency in policy-making and governance."

ERJK brought into spotlight again after real estate scandal ended Ratas' premiership

Evestus was referring to public revelations early last week that the Center Party, its former secretary-general Mihhail Korb, businessman Hillar Teder, former finance ministry adviser Kersti Kracht, and two other unnamed individuals were suspects in the ISS' investigation into alleged corruption involving a €39-million state loan to the Porto Franco real estate development in Tallinn.

The scandal led to Jüri Ratas' resignation as prime minister, in the early hours of January 13.

Transparency International Estonia recommends strengthening the ERJK's powers and clarifying the Political Parties Act, in accordance with proposals submitted by the committee to the Riigikogu's constitutional committee in June last year.

"The bill: 'Guidelines for ministers and their advisers on the prevention of conflicts of interest' should be adopted without delay, as should the bill: 'Best practice for officials in communicating with lobbyists', which aims to increase the transparency of policy-making," Transparency International Estonia said, according to BNS.

The Center Party recently removed a bill which would have abolished the ERJK and placed its functions under the auspices of the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll), effectively nationalizing it. The bill had already been held up following a Social Democratic Party (SDE) filibuster last summer.

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

According to Transparency International Estonia, the anti-corruption mechanisms within crisis measures and support should also be reviewed and strengthened, and the anti-corruption action plan 2021-2025, which is awaiting the approval of the new government, should be reviewed.

Transparency International Estonia is an accredited national chapter of Transparency International. 

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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