Auditor general: Riigikogu should decide on president's office funding

Janar Holm.
Janar Holm. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The annual budget for independent constitutional institutions such as the president's office are a matter for the legislature, the Riigikogu, and not the executive, Auditor General Janar Holm says.

At the same time, there is currently a lack of political will to make that happen, Holm went on in an interview given to "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Tuesday.

You took part in the  Riigikogu State Budget Control Select Committee meeting today. Is it the case that what we are seeing was a bad joke by [presidential adviser] Toomas Sildam, or an attempt at influencing in favor of more funding for the president's office?

Neither I nor anyone else from the National Audit Office was in the Internal Security Service (ISS) main building in relation to this conversation, so I would not like to add here any impressions or feelings that seem to be central to this dispute. 

This is something for the parties involved to explain for themselves, as to what exactly happened. The Riigikogu committee is working on it, too, and I hope that the next time, when the parties involved are present themselves, they will be able to explain things.

How serious of a corruption risk is the financial dependence of constitutional institutions on the executive power, in your estimation?

I think that independent constitutional institutions must not be dependent on the government. This is not just my point of view. We have talked about this topic many times, with the President of the Supreme Court, with the Chancellor of Justice, the head of the office of the President of the Republic and the head of the Office of the Riigikogu, saying that in our opinion, this is a problem. It is not viable to imagine a situation where it is possible to work independently, yet depend on government decisions.

For this reason we also made a proposal – one which, in my view, finds support in this case – to transfer that decision-making right to the place it belongs, ie. the Riigikogu is the body which decides on the budget of constitutional institutions.

Ironically, you oversee the finance ministry while at the same time you need to obtain funds from the finance minister in order to keep your office (the National Audit Office, or Riigikontroll – ed.) running.

In my opinion, this is an excellent example of conflicting roles, where indeed the National Audit Office requests and has to explain its need for funding, to the Ministry of Finance, every year, while at the same time auditing that ministry itself. I think that in a normal situation, this would seem highly corrupt, but that is the solution we have enshrined in law.

This has been talked about for years, but for some reason we are still in the same situation. What is the takeaway? Do we need to amend the law? Is political will alone alone sufficient to really resolve this issue?

I believe that the readiness to decide on this exists right now. If you read the "Kindlates kätes demokraatia" ("Democracy in secure hands") chapter of the finance minister's own party's pre-election manifesto (the Reform Party – ed.) you can see it clearly stated that the budget of constitutional institutions should be decided by the Riigikogu, in order to avoid dependence on the government. 

That dependency is written right there; it's seen as a problem, so I believe the will is there [to change it].

[Coalition partners] Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats have also talked about it or are ready to do so.

There are certainly those in the opposition who think that this would be reasonable, and that this decision-making place should take place at the Riigikogu.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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