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Finance minister concurs with auditor general stance on education top up funds

Mart Võrklaev at the government's regular Thursday press conference, January 18, 2024.
Mart Võrklaev at the government's regular Thursday press conference, January 18, 2024. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Finance Minister Mart Võrklaev (Reform) says he agrees with the head of the National Audit Office (Riigikogu) over the issue of €5.35 million being taken from the education ministry's budget to supplement state budget funds for the running of municipal schools.

Auditor General Janar Holm has said that the education minister, Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), did not have the authority to do this, while the funds in question had been earmarked for teacher wage hikes – the main central issue at stake in the recent teachers' strike.

Doing so also undermined the authority of the Riigikogu and helped render the state budget process and the legislative act which arises from it "increasingly meaningless," the auditor general had said in January.

Writing to Janar Holm midway through last month, the finance minister noted that his ministry "fully agrees with your position that neither the government nor the minister has the authority to increase the support fund as determined by the Riigikogu within the context of the state budget."

Võrklaev cited Section 3(2) of the 2024 State Budget Act, ie. the state budget itself, which put the support to local government general education schools nationwide at €485,490,000, and no more.

Most schools in Estonia are run by local government.

Other ministers have also acted similarly to Minister Kallas, Minister Võrklaev continued, ie. have added support from their own ministry's budget, including to local authorities.

However, if this l requires clarification in the context of the State Budget Act, he, Võrkalev, is ready to deal with the matter accordingly, and to discuss it with the audit office, the finance minister went on,

In the letter addressed in January to the finance minister, Auditor General Holm noted that: "If the government wishes to increase the amount of support for local government general education schools, that is entirely possible. However, to do that it is necessary to submit a draft amendment to the State Budget Act 2024 to the Riigikogu for discussion. I do not consider that the €5.35 million found by the Ministry of Education can be used in the way the ministry wants until the state budget for 2024 has been amended accordingly in the Riigikogu," Holm said.

Holm noted that in December and soon after the 2024 state budget had passed at the Rigiikogu, that the speaker had expressed a hope that a draft amendment to the state budget bill would be undertaken and which could have added in the extra funding.

Holm pointed out that in approving the budget, the Riigikogu has given its approval and authorization to the government to allocate €485,490,000 to subsidize the operations at general education schools, but not an additional €5.35 million.

This was not simply a technicality, but a fundamental point, Holm added, and transgressing it had implications for the status of the State Budget Act if its funding could be topped up in this way.

The State Budget Act would become increasingly meaningless if Riigikogu decisions can be overridden in this way, he noted.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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