Justice minister rebuffs opposition party ERJK bill

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Justice Minister Maris Lauri (Reform). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Justice minister Maris Lauri (Reform) has rejected a bill from the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE), which would give more powers to the political parties financing watchdog, and aims to make party finances more transparent, saying that her ministry is developing its own bill this year.

"Strengthening the supervision of party funding is one of the priorities for the government," Lauri said, noting that January's coalition agreement between Reofrm and Center detailed this, making SDE's bill redundant.

The watchdog, the Political Party Funding Supervision Committee (ERJK), has been used as a battleground by political parties in recent months, not least when the Center Party tabled a bill to remove the body altogether, and place its functions under the remit of the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll).

Center was facing scrutiny over its finances at the time and, while a corruption scandal involving the party once again in January prompted Jüri Ratas (Center) resignation as prime minister, Center remained in office under the new deal with Reform, while Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) found themselves in opposition.

Maris Lauri said: "To this end (i.e. improving party finance monitoring – ed.) a Ministry of Justice development plane will be presented this year, preceded by a systematic analysis of the field involving stakeholders. This means we do not consider it necessary to address party funding concerns in the form or format proposed in the [SDE] draft [bill] 321 SE," Lauri added.

SDE's bill would have tightened up penalties on accepting prohibited donations – something Center has been charged with in the recent past, though it was lately cleared of a €1 million fine for same – and bar those with recent criminal records from giving or accepting donations.

The bill was, according to its own explanatory memorandum, motivated by January's scandal, centered on the Porto Franco real estate development, where charges of bribery and influence peddling also touched EKRE, via one of the defendants, Kersti Kracht, being an adviser to then-finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).

The ERJK has in the past also hit criticism for being in effect the tool of SDE, since it is headed up by a former government minister from that party. The Center bill aimed at abolishing the ERJK was filibustered out of existence by SDE MPs last summer.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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