'Olukorrast riigis': MES loans issued under a lot of pressure

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Indrek Lepik and Hindrek Riikoja. Source: Siiri Lubasoo/ERR

The National Audit Office concludes that the Rural Development Foundation (MES) issued some crisis loans irrespective of the pandemic's effects, while the whole process took place under serious political and temporal pressure, hosts of the Raadio 2 "Olukorrast riigis" talk show Indrek Lepik and Hindrek Riikoja found.

Riikoja said that the audit revealed that around 5 percent of MES crisis loans were not used purposefully.

"If normally, MES loans have an interest rate of 4 percent /.../ these crisis loans saw it lowered to around 2 percent for the first two years," he said, adding that the rate goes back to 4 percent starting from the third year.

Riikoja pointed out that the conditions of crisis loans are more favorable than those offered by commercial banks. He said that the loans were issued in the conditions of much confusion and under political and deadline-related pressure. The hosts remarked that the National Audit Office overlooks the latter aspect in its report.

"The rural affairs portfolio was held by the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) at the time, with the MES supervisory board also including several politically appointed members so to speak, mostly from EKRE and Isamaa," he said.

Lepik said that he sees as the greatest problem the fact that the money was distributed arbitrarily.

"Crisis or not, money needs to be handled responsibly," he said.

Riikoja explained that loan decisions are made by the MES supervisory board. "Where should we point the microphone? The two fiercest critics of MES loans in the parliament today are Urmas Reinsalu and Peeter Ernits, one is from Isamaa and the other a member of EKRE," he added.

Lepik specified that while the audit mentions those who were issued loans based on arbitrary criteria, it makes no mention of who was turned down.

Riikoja added, however, that it needs to be understood that MES is not the same as KredEx. "People forget that KredEx hands out measures and support /.../ MES is a bank in the administrative area of the Ministry of Rural Affairs."

He said that MES makes money off the loans and one could ask whether the National Audit Office is making mountains out of molehills.

"In the end, we can boil it down to whether MES is making money or not. However, the fact remains that if a national, let us call it a bank-like formation distributes money, who qualifies and based on what kind of criteria needs to be universally clear," Lepik said.

The host concluded that crucifying the head of the foundation would be wrong and that political responsibility lies with the minister.

Riikoja remarked that the level of scrutiny regarding MES remains incomprehensible in a situation where other agencies had plenty of problems during the crisis.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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