Of the investment proposals submitted to be included in Estonia's 2023 state budget, the Finance Committee of the Riigikogu removed those proposed by the Ministry of the Interior under Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE), as according to the committee, the Interior Ministry should not be involved in investments in schools and kindergartens.
The Finance Committee did not approve the Interior Ministry's investment grants to various educational establishments, committee chair Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) told ERR on Monday.
"Auditor General Janar Holm made himself very clear in the State Budget Control Select Committee today when he said that ministries can only distribute money to their own field," Kokk said. "The Ministry of Culture can distribute funds related to culture, and the Ministry of the Interior if it's tied, for example, to kindergartens' fire safety."
Every member of the Finance Committee voted against the Interior Ministry's investment proposals except for MP Ivari Padar, Läänemets' party mate in the SDE, who voted in favor.
"But the ministries' funds remained," Kokk continued. "The money can be distributed in accordance with the Government of the Republic Act. It's possible to distribute money and support within your own field. That [the target of the investment] is in your own field. The Interior Ministry has the police, border guards, rescue teams — the minister can distribute these funds with a regulation."
He added that the committee acted as described by Auditor General Holm — following the law. "As we must act according to the law, so the committee has made decisions in accordance with existing laws," he said.
Also against the Interior Ministry's investment proposals was Tõnis Mölder (Center), chair of the State Budget Control Select Committee, which met on Monday morning. According to Mölder, the minister of the interior cannot support facilities that don't fall within his area of administration.
"The interior minister's proposal is to distribute money meant to go to boosting internal security — i.e. rescuers, police officers and, for example, state border development — ahead of [the 2023 Riigikogu] elections to local facilities that do not fall under the ministry's area of administration and which have been selected opaquely by the minister, giving preference to his own party mates," the select committee chair said.
"At the same time, he's requesting additional funding from the government reserve for internal security purposes," he continued. "We cannot allow the minister to confuse his wallet for the state's and utilize the ministry's budget for an election campaign."
Added to the Ministry of the Interior's budget line were items including €700,000 to a kindergarten in Kastre Municipality, €700,000 for the renovation of Tabivere Kindergarten and €700,000 for the renovation of Värska High School in Setomaa Municipality.
Likewise included were €1 million for the construction of a kindergarten on Kraavi tänav in Narva, €500,000 for construction work at St. Mary's School in Tartu, €100,000 for construction work at Risti Basic School as well as smaller amounts earmarked for various other educational establishments.
Läänemets, who is also chair of the coalition SDE, said last Friday that money designated for the construction or renovation of several kindergartens and schools had been added to the Interior Ministry's budget line by previous finance minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform).
Läänemets acknowledged that he was aware that this wasn't the money of the Interior Ministry's area of administration, but added that the goal was to contribute to Estonia's regional development.
"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," he explained. "Just budgetwise it's been added to the Interior Ministry's budget line."
SDE chief whip: Former finance minister not up to the job
SDE MP Indrek Saar, the party's Riigikogu chief whip and a former government minister, told ERR Monday afternoon that the former finance minister, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform), had not been up to the task.
"We have to take that into account in the future. We will digest it top see how to ultimately solve this whole problem," said Saar.
Saar also expressed reservations with finance committee chair Aivar Kokk's intentions.
He said: "Unlike some other political parties, we (ie. SDE – ed.) noted things down openly and clearly, and allocated money clearly to public objects and regional investments.
"We did not allocate money to the party's major donors or people who related via family to this or that NGO," he continued.
On being asked by ERR as to how he estimated the health of the current coalition, of which his party is a part, Saar said: "It is definitely not the best," replied Saar.
"In retrospect, yes, maybe we should have checked whether our [coalition] partners could handle the tasks that lie in their field, though we certainly don't regret that we took the right path," he went on.
Pentus-Rosimannus, who is set to take over from Juhan Parts as Estonia's representative at the European Court of Auditors, could not be reached by ERR for comment Monday.
The third and final reading of the 2023 state budget bill is scheduled to take place in the Session Hall of the Riigikogu on Wednesday.
Riigikogu parliamentary groups submitted 17 proposed amendments to the bill ahead of the third reading, which were not supported in a vote as their sources for cover weren't deemed suitable.
According to the 2023 state budget bill, Estonia's state budget revenues are to total €15.6 billion and expenditures €16.84 billion next year. The state is slated to spend nearly €775 million on investments next year, some €30 million more than this year.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include Indrek Saar's comments.
Editor: Aili Vahtla, Andrew Whyte