The Board of the Riigikogu, made up of the parliament's speaker as well as his deputies, announced on Tuesday that they will draw a clearer line between the reimbursement of MPs for expenses in connection with their work, and money spent on campaigning for next year's general election on 3 March.
As the Riigikogu is a professional parliament paying salaries to MPs, reimbursements made have to be connected to their work. MPs can currently claim expense reimbursements in the amount of up to a third of their salary.
A member of the Riigikogu currently earns some €3,300 a month before income tax. That corresponds to a coefficient of 0.65 of the maximum possible remuneration of a high official of the state (compared to what MPs make, the coefficient to calculate eg the speaker, the president and prime minister's salaries is 1, with job-specific additions in each case).
Campaign expenses not to be reimbursed
President of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor (SDE) said on Tuesday that expenses arising eg from MPs' meeting voters could be reimbursed, as that is part of their job. But having pictures taken and published, social media campaigns and any instance of an MP appearing somewhere with their party's slogan and their list number, this couldn't be covered, as all of these represented campaign expenses.
Social media has recently become one of candidates' favourite ways to obfuscate campaign spending. While direct political donations need to be declared to be legal, letting someone else pay for, say, a social media campaign on Facebook is neither traceable nor does it need to be declared, as the payment doesn't go to the candidate or the party.
The current discussion was started by media reports that Martin Helme, chairman of the parliamentary group of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), had submitted receipts for reimbursement for the promotion of his Facebook posts.
Nestor told daily Postimees that he hopes MPs will show integrity and not submit receipts to the Chancellery of the Riigikogu that have nothing to do with their work as parliamentarians.
Reform, Centre want expenses replaced with raise for MPs
The paper reported earlier in November that Nestor's deputies, Enn Eesmaa of the Centre Party and Kalle Laanet of the Reform Party, are in favour of abolishing MPs' expense accounts and instead increasing their salaries.
In its meeting on Tuesday, the board chose not to discuss the issue. According to Nestor, there is no sign of broad consensus in the matter, and given the upcoming general election, there is little sense in debating it in the current Riigikogu.
Editor: Dario Cavegn