Weekly: New president may enter office needing to apply for extra funds

Kersti Kaljulaid meeting Alar Karis at Kadriorg, following the latter's election as next president at the end of August.
Kersti Kaljulaid meeting Alar Karis at Kadriorg, following the latter's election as next president at the end of August. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A 'gaping hole' in the budget of the Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia has been the subject of much high-level discussion in recent weeks, investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress reports on its website, rising to a crescendo this week with the finalization of the government's state budget bill – the €13.64 billion state budget includes a €5.2 million entry for the president's office.

The disparity may be such that incoming president, Alar Karis, elected by the Riigikogu at the end of August, will have to apply for additional funding. In the meantime, the outgoing president, Kersti Kaljulaid, has been on several high-level foreign trips in the dying weeks of her presidency, Eesti Ekspress reports (link in Estonian), even as accounts for September – her final full month in office – have still to be finalized.

One point the incoming president has addressed is appointing a legal adviser – while his predecessor had faced criticism for not having an in-house adviser, using an external law firm where needed instead, the new appointment, announced as Hent Kalmo, will bring with it an additional cost, Eesti Ekspress said.

A precise figure is not mentioned, but Eesti Eskpress said it would likely be more in the hundreds of thousands of euros, rather than the millions, of an annual budget of around € 5.2 million, while the costs begin with Karis' inauguration next month.

President Karis will also reside at Kadriorg – he and his wife up until now had been long-term Tartu residents – whereas Kersti Kaljulaid did not live there and this, along with planned refurbishments and developments to Kadriorg in the coming years – including features in the Rose Garden and boosted security around the parade ground, until now wide open to the adjacent public street, will also be costs needing to be met.

Outgoing Kadriorg public relations adviser Taavi Linnamäe denied there was a deficit, saying that the budget had been managed consistently and transparently through Kaljulaid's term, which started in October 2016, while additional expenses incurred due to special events during that time – such as the celebration of 100 years of Estonian independence in 2018, the UN Security Council non-permanent seat campaign, culminating the same year, or the Three Seas Summit held in October 2020 – were always requested, he said.

Outgoing President's office director Tiit Riisalo said the same thing – there are no holes in the budget, though additional funds will have to be requested from the government in October, either before or after Karis takes office.

At the same time, Kersti Kaljulaid's final months in office have not been particularly frugal, the paper reported – with visits to the UN in New York, a visit to Sweden the weekend just past, and a state visit to Kenya earlier in the month all being racked up, while September's accounts are still to be finalized.

Overall, Eesti Ekspress noted, expenditure in the first nine months of this year had not been significantly different from that in other years, however.

Kaljulaid is also entitled to an office – to be situated in the former ice cellar – when she leaves office herself, a privilege extended to her predecessors, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Arnold Rüütel, Eesti Ekspress reports.

Even Tiit Riisalo is not obliged to vacate the premises on October 11, Eesti Ekspress reports, and will have to come to an agreement with his successor, Peep Jahilo, on the timing of affairs.

Talk of the budgetary "hole", including among ministers and top officials, has been going on for some weeks now, Eesti Ekspress wrote, though, Tiit Riisalo, noted, neither all of these costs, nor the fact there was to be a changeover in head of state in October, which, he said, also always incurs additional expenses, could have been fully forecast when the budget was set a year ago.

The full Eesti Ekspress article (in Estonian) is here.

The state budget itself has been presented by the Reform-Center coalition and will commence its debating and voting process at the Riigikogu in October, with three votes likely to be held in that month, mid-November and early-December, with the aim of getting the bill passed at year-end.

Another recent and fairly visible change at the president's residence is the switching of dress uniform previously worn by the official guard for camouflage fatigues.

Two senior ERR journalists are set to start work for Alar Karis and will therefore be leaving the public broadcaster; Toomas Sildam is to become an internal adviser, while Indrek Treufeldt will be the new public relations officer.

Kadriorg, seat of the President of the Republic of Estonia and named after the surrounding district, was erected in the 1930s, and should not be confused with the adjacent Kadriorg Palace, built over 300 years ago by Peter the Great for his wife, Catherine I (the area literally means "Catherine's valley" in Estonian).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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