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'Protection money' causes controversy, but recipients not complaining

Plans for the new church in Jõgeva.
Plans for the new church in Jõgeva. Source: Jõgeva kogudus/Varik Projekt

Every year, there is a debate about the ethics of distributing so-called 'protection money.' However, the funds are often used to repair roofs, or build churches and playgrounds, and some recipients admit, that they would be stuck without it.

On Monday, the deadline passed for MPs to make proposals regarding the recipients of so-called 'protection money'. Critics say, that the principles behind the allocation of "protection money" are not clear and, in the run-up to the 2023 Riigikogu elections, there are growing suspicions that decisions about where funds end up may be made to gain political support.

However, some of those who have received financial support in this way in previous years say, that they would not have completed necessary work without it.

The Estonian Evangelical Brotherhood in Nissi for example, received €10,000 in "protection money" last year, after a proposal by EKRE MP Henn Põlluaas. In this case, it was literally used to repair the roof of a prayer house. The work has now been completed and a report submitted to the Ministry of Finance.

Peeter Krall, head of the prayer house, told ERR that the money was extremely important because without it, the building, in Saue Municipality, would still be without a new roof today due its legal owner being registered in Tallinn.

"Saue Municipality cannot support this (project) because the owner is not registered here. The bureaucracy is still ongoing, but the building was falling down," Krall said, highlighting why the support was so urgently needed.

Last year, the town of Keila in Harju County received €25,000 in "protection money" to build a public beach, following a proposal by Reform Party member Timo Suslav. Town spokesperson Valdur Vacht confirmed, that the plan has now been implemented. "The public beach in Keila has been built, completed and is actively used," he said.

Keila public beach. Source: Keila city government.

This summer, a new cycle path was opened in the courtyard of the primary school in Väike-Maarja. €5,000 of the €6,000 spent on the path came from "protection money" on the recommendation of Indrek Saar (SDE), with an additional €1,000 raised at the Christmas fair.

After a proposal by Isamaa, "protection money" was also used to help fund the reconstruction of a church in Jõgeva County.

Georg Glaas, pastor of the Jõgeva congregation of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK), said that the church spire was opened at the end of 2020, and that the cornerstone was laid a little over a year ago. According to Glaas, the main building is now almost complete. Part of the glass façade has been installed, and when that is completed, the roof can be closed.

"We've made progress to the extent that we have, because we've made good use of the money," he said.

Glaas said, he was not sure if any of this year's "protection money" would be given to continue the construction of the church. If it is, the congregation will be delighted, but if not, the project will still be completed regardless.

Glaas believes that, while the church could have been built without state support, it would certainly have taken much longer. He added, that although there is a lot of fuss around the "protection" funds each year, for small rural churches, smaller donations are also always needed.

Glaas was reluctant to say when all the work on the Jõgeva Church will be complete, as things always take longer in reality than originally planned. However, he did confirm that most of the work has already been done and that the earliest possible completion date could be somewhere around Christmas next year.

Another organization to have benefitted from "protection money" is the Tallinn Volleyball Club, which received €24,000 at the suggestion of former Center MP Igor Kravchenko. The club's CEO, Karol Paas, said that the funds were provided as an operating grant.

"They are not for a specific purpose, but we have used them to do sensible things as part of the general budget. For example, this year we have Ukrainian children training with us, who do not pay tuition fees," he said, adding that the grant has also made it possible to reduce fees for families with multiple children who attend the gym.

While the club's activities would not come to a standstill without the grant money, Paas said, that any help is welcome and creates additional opportunities. However, for other clubs, the support may be necessary for their very survival, especially in light of the current uncertainty surrounding what the cost of renting and heating premises may be come January.

This year, €4 million, or around €40,000 per MP, from the state budget, will be spent on 'protection money' payments. Amendments to the third reading of the state budget will be discussed by the Riigikogu's Finance Committee on December 1.

"Protection money" ("Katuseraha" in Estonian, literally "roof money") has been distributed annually in Estonia since the 1990s. Each year an amount of money is set aside to be allocated to non-profit organizations and foundations at the discretion of Riigikogu members, and according to the needs of the different parties. Decisions regarding the allocation of "protection money" take place annually towards the end of the year.

The funds are often put towards regional projects, while the timing of their issuing coincides with voting on the annual state budget. This has prompted many to claim that the "protection money" is a quid pro quo to get MPs from all parties to vote through the state budget bill, which must take place by year end.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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