State yet to pay out 'roof money' allocation to anti-abortion NGO

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Last August's "Elu marss" ("March for life) in progress in Tallinn's old town. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The anti-abortion non-profit association Elu Marss (March of Life), which was allocated the largest amount of what is commonly dubbed "roof money" from the state budget this year, has not yet been paid the €171,000 for operating support - the financial plans were disrupted by the change of government in January, daily newspaper Postimees reported.

At the end of last year, the Riigikogu adopted the state budget for 2021, in which €6.4 million were distributed for various regional investments, commonly dubbed "roof money". In the joint list of the then coalition - the Center Party, the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Isamaa -, by far the largest amount was allocated to Elu Marss, the most remarkable event of which was an anti-abortion demonstration held last August. The allocation has elicited numerous responses. For example, in December, the petition "No to the allocation of roof money to an anti-abortion movement" initiated by the non-parliamentary Estonian Greens received 15,000 signatures and was also discussed by the Riigikogu finance committee on March 9.

According to Zuleyxa Izmailova, the leader of the Estonian Greens, the allocation of €171,000 is a very politically charged sum to finance ideological propaganda from the state budget. Piret Räni, a member of the Estonian Greens, added that if the wish was to take real action to reduce abortions, organizations engaged in sex education should be funded.

Although the committee did not adopt a decision on this issue, it emerged that the NGO has not yet received the money. There has also been no application submitted for the funds. The obstacle to disbursement arose after the change of government in January and the abolition of the position of minister of population. Namely, the payment of operating support to Elu Marss was planned from the population and family policy program "Sustainable Estonia and effective population operations" under the administration of the minister of population.

However, after the coalition of the Reform Party and the Center Party abolished the position of the minister of population, this program will not be continued with either. Moreover, the area of population and family policy was transferred to the Ministry of Social Affairs under the responsibility of the Reform Party's Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo.

At the same time, the support allocated to the NGO by the decision of the Riigikogu is still in the budget of the Ministry of the Interior. However, the support can be paid only through the civil society program under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, Raivo Kuut, deputy secretary general for population, civil society and family policy at the Ministry of the Interior, told Postimees.

In order to for the money to be paid out, the NGO must submit an application where it must be clear how the NGO will use the money to fulfill the objectives of the civil society program. The civil society program focuses, for example, on supporting community initiatives and the development of non-governmental organizations, increasing the share of volunteers and community activity, and improving the overall viability of Estonian civil society.

At the meeting of the finance committee, Kuut explained that the goals to be contributed to are, for example, active and informed citizens, transparent and inclusive policy-making and religious freedom. When receiving money from the ministry, it is monitored that the NGO also contributes to these goals.

According to Ministry of Finance representative Mart Belkin, the minister of the field is responsible for the targeted use of the money and, if necessary, sets separate conditions for meeting the objectives when allocating support. "If the beneficiary does not meet these conditions, contracts cannot be concluded. This applies throughout, not just in connection with a change of government," Belkin said.

The Center Party's Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani, who, however, is not a member of the party, did not give his assessment of the financial allocation, noting only that the Riigikogu has passed the State Budget Act and a law in force must be complied with. "In this case, however, before enforcement, it is necessary to specify in a new situation how the law can be complied with," Jaani said.

According to the minister, the only condition for the payment of support is that the activities of the NGO must be related to the objectives of the civil society program. The Ministry of the Interior proposed to the NGO to meet to discuss the application, payment and use of support. The application of the NGO has to include clear goals -- for what and in what period the money will be used, and then also a report on the use of the support.

When asking the representative of the NGO, Pille Voll, about the plans of the NGO in the new situation, Voll answered that the questions are rushing ahead and could perhaps be answered in the future. In December, public broadcaster ERR wrote that Elu Marss plans to carry out an information campaign with the money. The meeting between the ministry and Elu Marss will take place this week. The deadline for payment of the support is the end of 2021. The money that has not been paid out by that time will be returned to the state budget

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Editor: Helen Wright

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