While this year's so-called 'protection money' (Estonian: Katuseraha) process, which accompanies the state budget's passing through the Riigikogu, is already being discussed, hundreds of thousands of euros from last year's allocations are still unspent, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Tuesday. Only five government ministries have fully distributed their protection money funds.
Minister of Public Administration – effectively the minister for the regions – Jaak Aab (Center), told AK that: "One [beneficiary] has given up as the plan involved a very small amount for a private hospital, but it is not permissible to grant funds to the company via state aid. The proposal was likely a little bit incorrect, legally speaking. We are continuing to communicate with the other two," adding that he would not name the organizations, saying that the issue was more with them than with the ministry.
€6.4 million in protection money was allocated in last year's budget; the process for this year's funding is already underway, alongside the state budget debates and voting as a whole.
Five ministries (of 11) have received and disbursed all their funds from 2020: The justice, foreign, social affairs, culture and education ministries.
Interior ministry adviser Marten Lauri said that there were two projects under his ministry's remit with questions marks over their appropriateness.
He said: "An application must be clear in relation to national strategic objectives. As of today, we have not made a decision on disbursement for two NGOs whose applications have not yet met the requirements described, i.e . it is not clear in relation to the national strategic objectives."
One of the two NGOs is an anti-abortion group founded just a few months before the protection money allocation process started. The money, €70,000, was allocated by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), whose leading members also attended a march through Tallinn's old town last year.
With the environment ministry, the hold-up depends on the recipients' work deadlines, Kristi Klaas, ministry undersecretary, told AK.
She said: "We have deadlines for most of the work to be completed at the end of November and into December, after which the contracted amounts will be paid out. This also depends hugely on an NGO's ability to use the funds."
All unused funds must be returned to the state coffers by year end.
In both the environment and interior ministries' cases the sums in question are €100,000, while the finance ministry has €20,000 still to distribute. The remaining three ministries have a few thousand euros each still to utilize.
One NGO due to receive funding via the rural affairs ministry has reportedly wound up its activities since last year.
Long denounced by the Reform Party as a form of corruption, the protection money scheme is under focus particularly this year, both because Reform is now in office and some of its leading members have softened their tone on the issue – and also due to the local elections taking place; many recipients of protection funds are located in the regions.
The practice is seen as greasing the wheels of the state budget debating and voting process, which starts in October and runs through to late on in the year, with a view to getting the state budget passed by year end.
Common uses include sports facilities and buildings, churches, and, as noted, NGOs.
All represented parties – currently five – received protection money in relation to their size; the coalition has changed since this time last year, after EKRE and Isamaa left office in January and Reform entered office with Center alone.
Editor: Andrew Whyte