Watchdog hopes SALK analysis will result in new powers

Liisa Oviir.
Liisa Oviir. Source: ERR/Siim Lõvi

Head of Estonia's Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) Liisa Oviir told ERR that the upcoming discussion of the elections activities of the Liberal Citizen Foundation (SALK) will hopefully result in new powers for the committee in analyzing the activities of various political organizations.

"The law currently only makes parties or individuals who run in elections subject to ERJK control. All manner of NGOs or other types of organizations are third persons as far as we're concerned. While we can contact them and ask them to provide information, they are under no obligation to reply. In other words, they can just not respond, which many of them have done," Oviir said.

"This situation probably needs to be revisited. Whether through amending the affiliated organizations regulation or, and this would be simplest, giving us powers to ask and require the other side to answer if we have a justified suspicion or see association with political forces," Oviir said.

The ERJK head said that corresponding draft legislation to amend the Political Parties Act has been doing the rounds for a few years now. "One positive result of this SALK episode from our committee's point of view is that politicians have now said they plan to send the bill to the parliament this fall and possibly pass the amendments," Oviir added.

ERR's Lauri Varik asked Oviir about ERJK's view of SALK activities before Riigikogu elections where the NGO commissioned polls, drew up analyses based on the results and offered them free of charge to certain parties that share its worldview.

"If an NGO, which is a legal person, makes a donation to a political party, this would have to be considered an illegal donation. We need to discuss how to classify the service that they offered. The law provides that if a person has given a party financial benefits, which services also are, this is treated as a donation. At the same time, volunteer work by a natural person does not constitute a donation. That is what we will need to analyze, how should we treat it [SALK activities]," Oviir replied.

The watchdog's chairman clarified that a legal person also cannot do volunteer work for a party as that too constitutes a donation. She said that ERJK does not know whether SALK offered its analyses as a legal person or whether it was done by a natural person.

Oviir remarked that SALK has also been criticized by making recommendations in terms of which parties to support.

"This I do not perceive as a problem because, also based on what SALK have said, they've made recommendations, while they have not made a single donation. While donations by third persons are also prohibited, these persons made them from their personal assets, which is completely legal. And it is also sensible. Our political parties are funded from the state budget and can take in donations from likeminded individuals."

Oviir said that SALK has agreed to cooperate fully with ERJK and answer the watchdog's questions.

The committee is set to debate SALK's case next Thursday.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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