Riigikogu MPs' deadline to present proposed beneficiaries of an annual regional funding round was Monday, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported.
Dubbed "protection money" (Estonian: Katuseraha, literally "roof money"), the funds are distributed to all represented parties for use towards social and cultural projects of their choice, primarily in provincial Estonia.
The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), for instance, has via its MPs applied for funding for cancer treatment, women's shelters and for the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit).
The scheme has not been without its detractors, most notably the coalition Reform Party, who long opposed protection money as a form of corruption, but are now mostly on board with it as well.
Corruptions suspicions largely revolve around claims that the beneficiaries of protection funds are generally acquaintances or friends of the MP doling out the money, while the entire process could be seen as "greasing the wheels" in getting the state budget bill passed for the following year – though this has already passed its second reading.
Additionally, the general election to the Riigikogu takes place in March.
EKRE Riigikogu whip Henn Põlluaas told AK that: "We made an agreement that the decision for the individual MP, up to a certain amount, while the remainder would be sent to those recipients and NGOs we consider to be more significant."
This would include regional development, he added.
Reform's Riigikogu chief whip Mart Võrklaev was one of four Reform hold-outs who will not be taking advantage of the protection money round.
He said: "My personal stance is that distributing money from the state budget in this way is neither appropriate, nor is it really reasonable or required. In any case, there remains the very strong assumption that whoever receives the money probably knows the MP personally."
The coalition Social Democrats (SDE) MPs have provided support to sports, youth projects, old people's societies and – an area usually seen as mainly an Isamaa preserve – churches.
SDE MP and party Secretary General Eduard Odinets told AK that: "All SDE MPs are using the opportunity to support worthy, interesting and useful initiatives in the provinces."
Center Party chief whip Jaanus Karilaid meanwhile said that while he supports the practice in principle, it is in need of reform.
The chairman of the faction of the Central Party, Jaanus Karilaid, said that everyone in the faction participated in the distribution of investment money. Karilaid himself supports the program, but believes that it should be reformed.
Karilaid, whose party is in opposition at the Riigikogu, said these would include weighting the support to less affluent areas of the country, more remote from the capital.
He said: "The 'golden circle', or Tallinn and Harju County, should not receive it or should have a lower coefficient. Everything outside the golden circle ought to get more."
All Center's 26 MPs are taking part in the scheme this year, he added.
Former Isamaa MP Siim Kiisler, who now belongs to the ranks of the newly-formed Parempoolsed party, follows that party's official line in opposing protection money, saying: "My proposal was simply to take all that money out of the state budget and put it towards reducing household debt."
Aivar Kokk, Isamaa MP and chair of the Riigikogu's finance committee, said that he personally supported village societies and sports clubs.
The finance committee ultimately reviews MPs' protection money proposals.
"Should we spot any kind of mistakes, in areas which have not been agreed upon, we will give the MP the opportunity to correct his or her error," Kokk said.
The same committee is next Thursday, December 1, to discuss amendments submitted to the state budget ahead of its third and final reading.
Amendments between second and third reading of a bill cannot be substantive and usually pertain to typos and other errors.
Read the article at ERR.