Minister: Cultural Endowment may cover National Library refurb shortfall

Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform).
Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) has recommended as a matter of urgency the Ministry of Culture make good a shortfall of funding for the renovation of the National Library (Rahvusraamatukogu), by utilizing the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Kultuurikapital) fund.

Reconstruction work on the National Library in central Tallinn started in July 2022, but has turned out to be a much more expensive project than was budgeted for, while in order to complete the work, the state must find €35 million in additional funds.

In a letter dated August 17 sent to the Ministry of Culture, the Office of the Riigikogu and to the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Võrklaev noted that, in addition to the National Library, another renovation concerning the Tallinn Art Building (Tallinna kunstihoone) in Vabaduse väljak is also ongoing and is also around €4 million short of the required funds.

Võrklaev wrote that: "Together, therefore, the additional needed for investments into cultural objects in progress and for the next two years stands at approximately €40 million."

According to the minister, the situation regarding the state budget is a tense one, and the government is looking for ways to make savings and cutbacks, in conjunction with the ministries.

The annual state budget process usually begins in September, in respect of the budget for the following year.

However, each additional funding decision from the state budget requires additional sources of those funds. Võrklaev noted that before starting on any new investments, money must be found to complete the unfinished objects like the National Library.

"Since there is the option of using the Cultural Endowment of Estonia budget to support more objects from funds intended for cultural buildings than are including in the ranking of nationally important cultural buildings as approved by a Riigikogu decision of September 13, 2021, we would urge you to submit a proposal to the Riigikogu cultural committee in respect of additional funds for investments into the Estonian National Library and the Tallinn Art Building, and to be sourced from the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, and to achieve this, to search for the requisite legal solutions," the minister went on.

The Cultural Endowment of Estonia can, as things stand, finance only those buildings that are included in the list of nationally important cultural objects. 

Neither the National Library nor, for that matter, the planned new ERR TV house, are included on that list.

The estimated price for the reconstruction of the National Library has risen over time. In December 2021, the government decided to cover this rise via funds which had been earmarked for the construction of the ERR TV house and complex, as included in the state budget strategy (RES) for the years 2022-2025. 

Following that decision, then Culture Minister Tiit Terik confirmed that he would bring the investment in the new television complex into the next budget strategy project.

At the same time, Jaak Aab, minister of public administration at the time, said that ERR could thus make its preparations for the new ERR complex calmly, and that that project would continue to be a priority.

On August 7 this year, the Riigikogu Cultural Affairs Committee discussed financing the new TV house, and a legal solution was sought on how it might still get built using funds from the the Cultural Endowment of Estonia.

Committee chair Helju Pikhof (SDE) said on the same day that the proposed ERR building would definitely not be added to the Cultural Endowment of Estonia list as a sixth item, but that the cultural committee was planning to sound out legal means with which to build the house using money from the Cultural Endowment in any case.

The possibility of this happening remained, she said, adding that Minister of Culture Heidy Purga (Reform) was warmly disposed to this idea.

Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev announced in a letter sent on August 17 that his ministry was fully aware of the need to update the current TV house facilities, located on Gonsiori in central Tallinn (the planned new building would be erected between the existing Radio House, also on Gonsiori, and the News House, on Kreutzwaldi, on a plot currently used as a parking lot.

Võrklaev said: "We welcome the initiative of the Estonian Public Broadcaster to look for alternative financing options besides the state budget for the construction of the complex."

As for the reconstruction of the National Library, which was completed in 1993, the government provided €53.2 million in the RES for 2022-2025.

 In the meantime, however, construction costs have risen significantly, to the extent that as of now the total cost of the project has been revised upwards, to €91 million. 

The rise in cost was also the result of some very poor construction quality in the existing building, work which began while Estonia was still under Soviet occupation, and which was apparently not known about to its full extent before work started.

In the document register of the Ministry of Finance, Võrklaev's letter, in which he recommended obtaining funds from the Cultural Endowment of Estonia for the repair of the National Library, was initially marked classified, but following a freedom of information request from ERR it transpired that this categorization was erroneous, and that the document should be publicly available.

A ministry spokesperson said of the matter that: "The request [letter] was marked for internal use only, as a document relating to the budget process, but upon closer inspection, it appeared that the specified letter does not in fact contain sensitive information."


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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