Riigikogu deputy speaker: Opposition hearings only processed Mondays

Toomas Kivimägi.
Toomas Kivimägi. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Riigikogu's board organizes the weekly work schedule at parliament so that hearings on interpellations and bills submitted by the opposition can only be processed on Monday's, Deputy Speaker Toomas Kivimägi (Reform) says.

This is in order to avoid the Riigikogu's work being paralyzed, he added.

Kivimägi told ERR that: "The Riigikogu board plans its agenda on a weekly basis. On principle, we have agreed that answering questions takes place on Mondays, so we try not to insert bills there, to allow the opposition to make full use of its right to submit questions and receive answers to these."

"We are ready to work at that until midnight [that day]," Kivimägi went on.

Kivimägi said the Supreme Court's Constitutional Review Chamber has actually issued clear guidelines, stating unambiguously and clearly that parliament's work must be organized in such a way that the legislature can fulfill all its tasks as they arise from the constitution.

"It is this that gives the board a mandate, a clear mandate and in fact an obligation to not actually process solely the hearings and bills presented by the opposition. Otherwise, we would actually be throwing § 65 of the Constitution in the trashcan," he added.

"And that would obviously mean a constitutional crisis," Kivimägi said.

Tuesdays through to the end of the working week are set aside for bills and all other issues, Kivimägi went on.

As of Monday this week, 317 opposition interpellations had as yet been unanswered; 186 draft bills had been submitted.

If each question takes an hour and 20 minutes to process, all 317 questions would take 422 hours to answer, Kigimägi said.

Each bill took one hour at its first reading, meaning the bill processing would take a further 186 hours, he added – totaling 608 hours of work, or, given parliament's working hours, eight months to process everything.

Solely dealing with opposition bills and questions for months would mean the Riigikogu's other work, including taking away parliamentary immunity, hearing presentations from the Chancellor of Justice, appointing judges etc., would not take place.

This meant that any opposition expectation of being able to filibuster was a house built on sand, Kivimägi added.

Opposition representatives disagreed with this interpretation of the unequivocal implementation of the Constitution by the board of the Riigikogu. 

In addition to opposition hearings, a number of bills are waiting to reach the Riigikogu hall, including around 50 whose deadline falls this week.

"So, in this sense, if anyone wants to say that this is not disrupting parliament or it is not a filibuster, then this is a completely inadequate position to take. Obviously, this has been the plan of the opposition, but we certainly cannot submit to such an ultimatum and behavior," Kivimägi said.

Kivimägi also said that if a questioner appeals to § 74 of the Constitution, then § 65 must also be taken into account.

§ 74 states that:

Any member of the Riigikogu has the right to put questions to the Government of the Republic and its members, to the Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, the President of the Bank of Estonia, the Auditor General and the Chancellor of Justice.

The questions must be answered at a sitting of the Riigikogu within twenty sitting days.

§ 65 reads:

The Riigikogu:

 1) passes laws and resolutions;

2) decides the holding of a referendum;

3) elects the President pursuant to § 79 of the Constitution;

4) ratifies and denounces international treaties in accordance with § 121 of the Constitution;

5) authorizes a Prime Minister candidate to form the Government of the Republic;

6) passes the national budget and approves the report on its implementation;

7) acting on a recommendation of the President, appoints to office the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, the Auditor General and the Chancellor of Justice;

8) acting on a recommendation of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, appoints to office justices of the Supreme Court;

9) appoints members of the board of the Bank of Estonia;

10) acting on a proposal of the Government of the Republic, decides whether to authorize government borrowing or the assumption of other financial obligations;

11) makes statements, declarations and appeals to the people of Estonia, to other states and to international organizations;

12) establishes national awards, as well as military and diplomatic ranks;

13) determines motions to express no confidence in the Government of the Republic, the Prime Minister or individual ministers;

14) declares a state of emergency in the national territory pursuant to § 129 of the Constitution;

15) acting on a proposal of the President, declares a state of war and orders mobilization and demobilization;

16) resolves other issues of national importance which the Constitution does not assign to the President, the Government of the Republic, other public bodies or local authorities.

In the last weeks of the spring Riigikogu session, an opposition filibuster held up parliament for several days, prompting anxiety from the coalition that this would return when the legislature reconvened for the fall session – which it did last Monday.

A proposal to set up an investigative committee specifically tasked with examining the business activities of the spouse of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), very much in the headlines in recent weeks after it was revealed some of these activities included transporting manufactured items to Russia, did not make it on to this week's Riigikogu agenda, despite having been submitted in time.

The board of the Riigikogu consists of the speaker and the speaker's two deputies, of whom Kivimägi is one.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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