Members of the Riigikogu have been distributing direct regional investments or so-called protection money for years. There has also been talk for years of making the umbrella system more transparent, with the system of allocating budget funds also raising questions for the beneficiaries themselves. Alari Rammo, head of advocacy for the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO), finds the distribution of the protection money should be stopped.
"I had no idea about the protection money. It came like lightning from a clear sky. I was usually called then. After the third reading in the Riigikogu, but I can't be quite sure who is behind it, which party or who exactly. Everyone's so modest," chairman of the Murtud Rukkilill Association Enn Uibo told the weekly news show "Aktuaalne Kaamera. Nädal."
"We have not made any proposals or looked for ways to get so-called funding from the protection money pot. The last time we found out from the news that the Social Democratic Party had given us €10,000," Kristel Rannaääre, CEO of the Estonian LGBT Association said.
"We were contacted by a Conservative People's Party (EKRE) MP from Tartu and asked if we needed help, support for researching and showcasing the shrines. And, of course, we were very pleased with this offer," Ahto Kaasik, a member of the board of Hiite Maja SA said.
These are just a few examples of how non-governmental associations have received protection money approved by members of the Riigikogu and distributed by ministries. While this is a great gift for many, there are those who are not very happy with the money they receive.
"The money has been offered twice and we have given up that money on both occasions. On the one hand, because the system is not transparent. On the other, because there is no follow-up, we don't really know what mechanisms are used to monitor its use. It is also very important that we are not affiliated with any party or political direction," Rannaääre said.
MPs decide to whom to allocate money for regional investments. The task of ministries is to pay out the money in their administrative area and exercise supervision.
"Every ministry is actually struggling with these funds and doesn't want them for itself. If you look at the latest files on how the budget is made, there are such well-striped excel spreadsheets where one ministry writes 'no, it's not our money' and throws it over the fence like a dead dog to another ministry, saying, 'deal with this mess yourself.' Then it is given back because most of the protection money doesn't fit in with the ministry's own goals, work plans, the procedures they have for funding, and then they try to accommodate it all," Alari Rammo said.
"Someone has to be the intermediary and executive apparatus, these are the ministries. How to set up the mechanism, how it will be distributed is also up to each ministry to decide," Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said.
Thus, the practice of each ministry in paying out the protection money in its field is different. For example, in 2020, the Ministry of Defense made a transfer to NGO Civitas for the production of a documentary film within ten days after the conclusion of the contract. According to the report submitted to the ministry, almost half of the received €15,000 has not been used yet, but it should be used by the end of this year. The Ministry of the Environment, on the other hand, has not paid the money until the work provided for in the contract has been completed. For some beneficiaries, this means taking a loan.
"After all, support is applied for in order to get money for certain activities, and if we don't have that money ourselves, we had to take out a loan first. Last year, we were in real danger of not being able to apply and receive this support through the ministry if we can't find a lender," Ahto Kaasik said.
"In general, funding for NGOs, whether they are operating grants, project applications, always works through advances. It's protection money, gambling money, European Union money. In some parts, there is always an advance payment amount in hindsight, it is actually bureaucratic bullying, such a thing should not be done," Rammo said.
No summary has been made of the use of the protection money in Estonia, with every ministry having to be asked to provide data separately. It turns out that part of the protection money is not used either due to the termination of the non-governmental organizations' activities, lower-than-expected costs or also due to legal conflicts. This year, the Ministry of the Interior has also pointed to contradiction with national strategic goals, which concerns, for example, the anti-abortion non-governmental organization Elu Marss. The board did not want to comment on the issue in front of the camera, but in the written comment they indicated that the conflict with the national strategic goals was surprising for them.
Rammo said that the best solution to the situation would be to stop distributing the protection money, but at the moment it seems rather unlikely.
All protection funds have been paid out by three ministries within three years
"Aktuaalne kaamera- Nädal" also examined how the disbursements of these funds of the ministries have progressed in the last three years.
In 2019, the Riigikogu allocated €7.25 million for regional investments. Of this, €13,310 or 0.2 percent was not paid, i.e. returned to the budget.
Last year, the protection money budget was significantly smaller - €4.32 million. Of this, the ministries did not pay, €9,103 or 0.2 percent was returned to the budget.
This year, €6.7 million was allocated as direct investments and currently, €378,200 or 5.6 percent are waiting to be returned to the budget.
In the last three years, only three ministries have paid out all the protection funds: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Research and the Ministry of Justice.
Four ministries - the Ministry of the Interior, Social Affairs, Culture and Rural Affairs - failed to make payments in 2019 in the total amount of €13,309 and last year in the amount of €9,049. However, this is small compared to this year.
And the protection money around which there is so much ado is, on the whole, a drop in the state budget. For example, next year's budget will be €13 billion, the use of funds in which is sometimes much less transparent.
Editor: Roberta Vaino, Marcus Turovski