While distribution at the Riigikogu of the so-called protection money funds once began with a need to repair school roofs, something which was a real concern at the time, times have changed, one journalist and civic activist says.
Those societies and organizations who are the beneficiaries of the present day protection money funds, while their concerns are genuine, should see these resolved in a different way, Tarmo Jüristo, who heads up the Liberal Citizen Foundation (SALK), says.
Appearing on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Tuesday, Jüristo noted that the issue was an annual one each autumn and part of the state budget procedure.
The issue also divides society, he said, with one half of the populace saying the practice should be stopped, the other, that there is no problem with it.
Hitherto the decision whether to distribute "protection money" funds, usually to a regional recipient of the MP's choice, has been a matter for the individual conscience of that MP.
Jüristo said, however, that it makes little difference if protection money ius given out around the time of the state budget process, or, this year, close to a general election, or at any another time.
While this year's protection money round would have looked much the same had there not been an election looming, Jüristo said, the timing leads to suspicions that the process is more a part of electioneering and has less to do with regional policy and support.
Politicians who are pro-protection money point out the sum, this year €4 million, is negligible in comparison with the state budget (whose expenses for 2023 total €16.81 billion), adding that the main value inheres in regional investment.
"Then I would say, decide whether this is important money. If it is not important money, then it is probably not important money in the context of regional investments either. And it is not, because four million euros will not solve any structural regional problem," Jüristo said.
On the other hand, according to Jüristo, the very need for the distribution of funds in this way points to a real problem.
Protection money: "Should not be carried out in such a way that those who happen to obtain the money know the MP, who has these tens of thousands of euros in their hands, from somewhere or other," Jüristo said.
The third criticism, one which gets repeated every year, is that the distribution of money is based on grounds and principles that are not completely clear and comprehensible.
Jüristo gave by way of example that if one wanted to support churches, for example – a common beneficiary of the scheme – church funds exist for this, with the added advantage of having an overview of where the money is most needed. "This money also does not go to whoever happens to be closest to the dispenser of the funds," Jüristo said.
Noone could say there was anything wrong with present-day protection money funds going to the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) or to sports associations or village associations, Jüristo added. "This is where the money is needed, but it could be distributed in such a way that everyone has equal access to it, while the grounds on which it is decided, ie. that it goes to one place or another, are clear, and made by people who know the situation."
Attempts have also been made to reform the system, but according to Jüristo, these changes have so far been cosmetic. For example, one agreement is that each MP's name must be put to his or her proposal.
Also, the beneficiary must have submitted at least one financial year's-worth of reports, so that money is not donated to something which is purely a project in name only, he said.
"In the end, however, it is a cosmetic thing when it comes to protection money. The problem is not whether, for example, [the relatively affluent] Harju County gets more or less, but the criticisms from people and from civil society organizations have been the same over the years: This money should not be distributed on such a basis. The current system is opaque and corrupt and it simply shouldn't be done that way," Jüristo concluded.
Editor's note: While "protection money" might be redolent of mafia or other nefarious activities, the translation is intentional given the controversy the process has attracted. The Estonian term, "Katuseraha", literally translated would be "roof money", which has a double meaning also, both in this sense and that as noted the funds were originally indeed put towards the upkeep of school roofs.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi