In an interview with ERR, Riigikogu Speaker Lauri Hussar (Eesti 200) said that he is in favor of reducing the allowances for members of the Riigikogu, as has been proposed by the Supreme Court of Estonia. Hussar would also like to do away with the administration associated with making claims for expense allowances, and proposed that in future Riigikogu Members' salaries could be fixed for a period of four years.
The Estonian Ministry of Finance has presented a draft proposal that would mean the salaries of senior civil servants would not increase by as much as the law currently provides. However, this does not affect Members of the Riigikogu. Article 75 of the Estonian Constitution states that the remuneration of Members of the Riigikogu cannot be changed, only the remuneration of its next composition. However, the payment of allowances could be reduced or even abolished. As Riigikogu Speaker, what do you think about this?
I would start with the plan to freeze pay rises for senior civil servants. This is certainly a proposal that I support. The reason is that, the difficult state of public finances and the fact that there are no pay rises in the majority of sectors, with the exception of school teachers. The public sector certainly has to show solidarity here.
It is true that it is not possible to change the salaries of Riigikogu Members, for its current composition. This is because it is written into the Constitution. And there is no way we can change the Constitution today in relation to this salary issue. It is, however, possible for us to make changes with regard to expense allowances. Given the current situation, I would certainly support a reduction in expense allowances.
This is not a new idea either. It has also been accompanied by the idea that, if cost reimbursements are to be reduced, the related administration should be abolished. However, this is certainly a debate for the parliamentary groups. Because if we are discussing issues that concern all the parliamentary groups, then we need to discuss them with all the parliamentary groups and find a middle ground. Certainly, those discussions are still ahead of us, but, as has already been said, given the current situation, I am in favor of reducing the allowances.
How big might that reduction be? By half, just like the reduction in the salary increase for senior civil servants?
I do not know the prices calculations. There have been various analyses here of what a reduction in allowances would mean. Somewhere in the region of between 15 and 20 percent has been brought up as the potential reduction in MP's allowances.
So is that a percentage of current expense allowances or could those expense allowances be 15 to 20 percent of MPs salaries?
If we are talking about the current expense allowance, it is 30 percent of the salary of a Member of the Riigikogu. This planned reduction really falls somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. These are the proposals that have emerged from the various discussions here. But, as I said, this is an issue that needs to be discussed in the parliamentary groups and only then can a concrete position be formed.
Do you support the idea of extending a system similar to the one in place for members of the government, to Members of the Riigikogu, whereby they also receive an allowance, but it is a fixed amount? It would simply be credited to their accounts and so they would not have to submit any claims for it. Perhaps then, the need for administration would disappear.
It has been discussed in the Riigikogu that if allowances are reduced, the (related) administration could be abolished. Because the administration itself is costly. So that it would also provide some opportunity for savings.
However, this is really a matter for the parliament to decide. I would remind you that this type of system was in place before 2003, but then it was decided to introduce the current expense allowances system and to increase the amount of those allowances. All this was made administrable. Now the question really is being raised of perhaps returning to this earlier system. However, it is down to the political groups to take their own broader stances on this.
Was there also a discussion at Vihula about what to do with the salaries of Riigikogu members and whether the system should be changed in any way? I understand that there is nothing that can be done in relation the Riigikogu's current composition, but what proposals were put forward for the next composition? That MPs' salaries should not depend on how high the prices rise in Estonia, and that they should automatically receive salary increases.
There were quite a lot of proposals put forward. On of those proposals was to fix the salary of a member of the Riigikogu for a period four years, which would also require a substantial change to the law. All the issues put forward were related to the salaries of MPs and of course these issues are now being seriously discussed.
Who put this proposal forward?
It was I, who made the proposal.
So that once an MP is elected to the Riigikogu, they know what their salary will be for the next four years?
Yes, they know that they have a single fixed salary for four years, which takes account the needs of the present moment. The responsibility and the workload required in the job will also be considered. However, at the same time, over the next four years, that salary will not increase. That was one of the proposals, which was up for discussion. Of course, this will again require substantial changes to the law, but that is what the Vihula debate was for, to consider all of these types of long-term decisions.
What kind of vote is needed to change the salaries of MPs? Does it need a simple majority or does it need 68 votes, or a two thirds majority?
In this case, it requires a simple majority.
Perhaps the coalition could do it by itself?
I am left with this answer. But all the questions concerning MPs' salaries will be discussed in a broader manner and a consensus sought among the political parties. As a rule, this has been accomplished. And, as a rule, the Riigikogu has been able to agree on these issues.
If it is decided that the system of expense allowances is to be overhauled and costs reduced, while the related administration is also going to disappear, how much taxpayers' money could be saved as a result?
That is the answer I currently do not have. I am unable to answer that question.
No calculations have been made?
There have certainly been no such calculations as yet. But, if the issue becomes more pressing, then the Chancellery of the Riigikogu will certainly make those calculations.
Editor: Michael Cole