Every year, the Riigikogu allocates a set amount of money for "local investments." Nicknamed "protection money," it is typically used to fund hand-picked projects of Estonia's various political parties and acts as a sort of grease leading up to the vote on the budget for the coming year. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) defended the practice on Tuesday.
Ratas said on ERR's Vikerraadio on Tuesday that the €30 million allocated for the purpose this year represent "different investments that haven't come up overnight, but the ministers and officials have recognised problems and made these suggestions [to solve them]."
Helping along the budget since the 1990s
The protection money, aptly named as a means of the opposition to shake down the coalition for cash for their own projects, has helped assuage the pain of all those parties since the 1990s who are not in government, but need to vote for the next budget in the interest of a functioning state.
The prime minister defended the practice when ERR journalists Arp Müller and Mirko Ojakivi pointed out that the amount of the protection money seems conspicuous at a time when the government is looking for revenue sources to plug the leaks caused by the massive revenue shortfalls in Estonia's excise duties.
"If we weigh [one thing against the other], then in my opinion eg. investments in education are a lot more important than lowering alcohol excise duties," Ratas added.
Sports centres, helipads, teacher housing
A few examples brought up by the prime minister include sports centres. "Every Estonian county should have a proper sports building, but in Hiiumaa they don't have that. Now €2.9 million have been allocated for that," Ratas said.
"Or take the helipad for the hospital in Kuressaare, so that patients can be taken on quickly. That used to be a problem as well. Or the issue with housing for teachers on the island of Ruhnu, where they had to stay in tents in the summer. We're also giving additional money to the Lennart Meri Conference, to higher defence courses, to participate in the World Economic Forum in Davos, and so on. All of these are specific regional investments," Ratas said.
Greasing budget particularly important this year
Beyond multi-million euro projects and stipends for national and international events, the protection money regularly goes to smaller institutions as well as specific pet projects of parliamentarians and their local party branches.
This is all the more important this year, seeing as the next general election is just months away, and all parties have a vested interest to do what they can for their local electoral districts.
Editor: Dario Cavegn