Ratas: Family benefits bill not pushed through due to financial inducement

Isamaa delegation meeting with Center and EKRE counterparts at the Riigikogu, Wednesday, June 8 2022.
Isamaa delegation meeting with Center and EKRE counterparts at the Riigikogu, Wednesday, June 8 2022. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Center Party has not received a donation from a major businessman in order to grease the wheels at the Riigikogu with a bill which would boost family support payments, Center leader and Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas says.

"It can be very frustrating, [but] this individual has not donated to the Center Party," Ratas said in response to a question from a journalist at Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian).

The questioner asked whether Parvel Pruunsild, owner of short-term loans firm Bigbank, had donated to Center in order to get the Bill on Amendments to the Family Benefits Act moving at the Riigikogu.

Center unilaterally tabled the bill last month, leading to a split in the Reform-Center coalition which ended with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' (Reform) expulsion of the Center Party's ministers from office, early on this month.

Ratas rejected the speculation, which arose in several areas of the Estonian media and based on Reform Party sources, ERR reports.

The speculation follows a situation in 2016 when Pruunsild and seven other entrepreneurs: Karli Lambot (ACE Logistics Group), Jaan Tallinn (Skype), Heldur Meerits, Margus Linnamäe (Postimees Group, Magnum Medical, Apollo Group), Aivar Berzin (Vestman Energia), Priit Alamäe (Nortal) and Vahur Voll (Bigbank)) each reportedly donated €28,000 to Center, Isamaa (then known as IRL) and the Social Democrats (SDE), along with €16,000 to the Reform Party. 

Several of the above confirmed that these donations had been paid by way of thanks to both the preceding (Reform/SDE/Isamaa) administration and the incumbent (Center/SDE/Isamaa), after support for a third child was significantly boosted.

Center's main sources of income are the state support to which all represented parties are entitled, and smaller donations from grass-roots party members, Ratas said, adding that Center had not recently received any large financial donations, which he quantified as in the €50,000-€100,000 range, from entrepreneurs.

Center's recent financial difficulties had led to a proposal in January 2021 to lay-off 20 people from the party's payroll and to conduct considerably more modest local election campaigning ahead of last October's election, than had been planned, he added.

Political parties are required to file financial reports with the Political Party Funding Supervision Committee (ERJK) each quarter, by or on the 10th day of the month following the end of that quarter – in other words by July 11 for the second quarter of this year.

A ruling late last year required Center to return close to a million euros to a consultancy firm on the grounds that campaigning work the company, Midfield OÜ, had carried out for Center around a decade earlier, constituted an illegal donation. Following this, Center announced that it would have to tighten its belt, including in respect of campaigning work for the next Riigikogu election in March 2023.

Midfield itself recently withdrew an action against Center in respect of the case, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

While Center took in €330,830 in state support in the first quarter, and a total of €81,557, it was Isamaa who were the most significant beneficiary of Bigbank chief Parvel Pruunsild's political donations – to the tune of €100,000.

Pruunsild is also head of the Estonian Association of Large Families (Eesti Lasterikaste Perede Liit).

Jüri Ratas was prime minister from November 2016 until January 2021, while Center remained in office with Reform until June 3. Ratas became Riigikogu speaker in spring 2021.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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