Former Finance Minister and Member of the Riigikogu Finance Committee Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party) finds that the Riigikogu's role in processing the state budget should not be boosted as delegates might end up harming the budget out of ignorance or in service of populist goals.
"I have been fighting initiatives to boost the Riigikogu's role in putting together the budget since before I was minister, during and after because I know that role to be incompetent, self-serving and indifferent to what matters," Ligi said on the "Otse uudistemajast" webcast on Wednesday.
He said that while MPs might want to come off magnanimous when making proposals to amend the budget, such efforts hurt the big picture. "That is the rule and why we have limited the parliament's capacity," he said.
A National Audit Office report from last week that highlighted deficiencies in the state budget also raised the issue of the Riigikogu's capacity in processing the budget. Critics say the parliament has effectively lost the ability to influence the budget.
"It needs to be emphasized that the budget is a government document and lengthy deliberations mostly take place in ministries and then the government. But not the Riigikogu!" the former finance minister said. "The apparatus that does the bulk of the work, with the government at its head, is light years ahead of the parliament in terms of its level of substantiation. The level of debate in the Riigikogu should be competitive, while it is far from the necessary level today," Ligi said.
The former minister pointed out that there are countries – such as the UK – where the parliament can only vote to pass or reject the budget.
He emphasized that one of the more important fiscal policy decisions is the principle of refraining from adding to fiscal deficit from 20 years ago. Furthermore, the Constitution prohibits adding expenses without showing ways to cover costs.
"In real life, the Riigikogu's capacity must not be allowed to become devastating. It might happen after restrictions are lifted," Ligi warned.
Ligi said that tools at the government's disposal cannot even be compared to the parliament's modest means. "We need to be frank here. We cannot throw away all the work that has gone into it in the name of popularity or political kinks that tends to be a major risk in the Riigikogu."
So-called protection money just shy of stealing
Asked about the practice of so-called Riigikogu protection money or direct investments by MPs, Ligi said it is akin to stealing from the state.
"It is is a classic model of how people resort to stealing if they are given free rein," he said. "Most of these decisions would bring a criminal investigation on the executive level. Deciding to allocate money for yourself looks bad indeed – sums are embezzled in the interests of oneself and one's close associates, even though seemingly in service of noble goals."
Ligi finds that such direct investments should be based on broader preferences and programs.
"The Riigikogu should adopt a set of standards, which would give it a role. But random decisions need to be deflected," he added.
Other topics discussed included the activities-based state budget model and Estonian Defense Forces funding, including the decision to abolish the EDF band.
Editor: Marcus Turovski