Läänemets: Kindergarten money stuck in Interior budget by finance minister
Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said Friday that money designated for the construction or renovation of several kindergartens was added to the Interior Ministry's budget line by previous finance minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform).
"This isn't the money of the Interior Ministry's area of administration," Läänemets told ERR. "From the beginning we had agreed in the coalition agreement that we want to contribute to Estonia's regional development and to Estonia's children attending various kindergartens and schools. Just budgetwise it's been added to the Interior Ministry's budget line."
Current Minister of Finance Annely Akkermann (Reform) told ERR in an interview Wednesday that the Ministry of Finance puts together other ministries' proposals for amending the state budget bill that then move on to the Riigikogu.
"These specific proposed amendments have been made by the minister of the interior," she said.
Läänemets, however, noted that his proposal prior to the completion of the budget had been to add that money to the Ministry of Finance's budget line, under the minister of public administration's area of administration.
The interior minister specified that he had sent Pentus-Rosimannus an Excel spreadsheet of properties for which funding has been requested, meaning there couldn't have been any question anymore regarding where specifically money would be going.
"When it wasn't possible to reach an agreement on this, the finance minister decided to add it to the Interior Ministry's [budget] line," he explained. "I'd be perfectly fine with [that money] being on some other line. And I have also said as much to members of the Finance Committee of the Riigikogu that I have submitted proposals regarding how this money could be distributed. And I am very much in favor of the Finance Committee relocating it to the correct [budget] line, since the government hasn't done so."
ERR also attempted to contact Pentus-Rosimannus for comment on Friday but was unable to reach her.
Aivar Kokk (Isamaa), the chair of the Riigikogu Finance Committee, told ERR that it is not as simple as transferring money from one ministry's budget line to another. "In the end, these funds were provided today at the expense of the Ministry of the Interior, which had requested €4 million from the government reserve for IT solutions. This is still a government plan, and the government must close this agreement," Kokk explained.
Many people were surprised by the Interior Ministry's expenditures when this topic was discussed at the Riigikogu's Finance Committee meeting on Thursday, Kokk added.
Kokk said that the committee is looking into how the Ministry of the Interior is making these investments and, if there is surplus somewhere, why is the ministry requesting additional funds from the government's reserve? The commission is waiting for the ministry's response.
When asked whether he expected to face a barrage of criticism once the money was added to the Ministry of the Interior's budget, Läänemets said yes.
"Yes. I have also alerted our partners of the unfairness of the situation. However, this is their perspective and since we have not reached a consensus, so the situation is what it is. These funds are not meant to be administered by the Ministry of the Interior. It is important that children in Estonia receive support and that funds reach them. Politicians may have differing opinions, but if a solution exists to help regional development, it must be embraced. Alternately, we do not aid regional growth in any way at all," Läänemets said.
"These are our honest proposals, which are also reflected in the national budget, and this money goes to the public welfare. We have no broad-scope NGOs affiliated with members of their own party, nor do we have any hidden budget lines that the minister will later decide on his own. Is it our fault that we do honest budgeting?" Läänemets continued.
As suggested by the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of the Interior budget would include lines such as, for example, €700,000 for the construction of a kindergarten in Kastre municipality, €700,000 for a kindergarten reconstruction in Tartu municipality, and €700,000 for a Värska gymnasium in Setomaa municipality.
Prime Minister and Reform Party Chair Kaja Kallas said on Thursday at a government press conference that the construction of kindergartens using funds from the Interior Ministry's budget came as a surprise to her and she was unhappy with the situation.
"Clearly unhappy. In state budget discussions, each ministry and minister fights for money in his or her own sector, but the government does not ask for specifics where the money goes or what are the details of agrements in great detail. Each ministry is authorized to make these decisions within their own remit. These allocations came as a surprise in that sense, as we had not previously explored them in such depth. However, each ministry has the authority to make such budgetary decisions," Kallas said.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla, Kristina Kersa