Under the Bill (164 SE), on the basis of the Agricultural Board and the Veterinary and Food Board, the Agricultural and Food Board will be set up and it will start operating on 1 January 2021. The amendments conform to the state reform action plan 2019–2023 approved on the basis of the Government’s action programme. The merger of the authorities proceeds from a more general principle of the state reform, namely to reduce the duplication of activities in different state offices, to reduce the number of administrative agencies and to improve the quality and availability of public services.
The Agricultural and Food Board to be formed after the merger of the agencies will perform all the current main functions of the two agencies, which will require retention of the present staff, among other things. With the reorganisation of the two agencies, the capability of risk-based inspection will increase, the management of information in the entire food production chain will improve, and the quality of the prevention and information activities to reduce offences will grow. The communication aimed at clients will be more comprehensive, and the administrative burden to clients will be reduced.
Ivari Padar (Social Democratic Party) took the floor during the debate.
The Riigikogu concluded the first reading of two Bills
The Bill on Amendments to the Local Government Organisation Act and the Local Government Financial Management Act (194 SE), initiated by the Finance Committee, will extend the deadlines by which local governments must adopt amendments to the budget strategy and the development plan and, on the basis of that, submit the draft budget and the explanatory memorandum to the municipal councils.
The purpose of the Bill is to propose an operational and functioning solution for 2020. As a result of the emergency situation caused by the spread of COVID-19, the relevant provision of the State Budget for 2020 Act was applied, and therefore the adoption of the state budget strategy was postponed to this autumn. In connection with this, it will be necessary to extend the deadlines by which local governments must adopt amendments to the budget strategy and the development plan, and submit them to the municipal councils. This will enable local governments to take into account the information set out in the state budget strategy when making management decisions.
In addition, the Bill will provide for a simplification for the presentation of information in the explanatory memorandum to the budget. A similar rule is in place for the state budget strategy which enables the Government to make generalisations and simplifications in the state budget strategy as compared to the normal situation.
The main amendment provided for in the Bill on Amendments to the National Audit Office Act, the Political Parties Act and Other Acts (controlling body for political party funding) (193 SE), initiated by the Faction Isamaa, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction and the Estonian Centre Party Faction, is to transfer the functions of the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee as a monitoring body to the National Audit Office.
The initiators of the Bill say in justification that the purpose of the Bill is to make the monitoring of the funding of political parties, election coalitions and independent candidates more professional. For that, the surveillance competence will be given to the National Audit Office. As the monitoring activities will become more professional, the monitoring of the funding of political parties will become more understandable and the transparency of the funding will increase.
The National Audit Office will continue the ongoing monitoring activities of the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee. The National Audit Office will also participate in the ongoing judicial proceedings as the legal successor of the Political Parties financing Surveillance Committee. The performance of the additional task will require reorganisations in the National Audit Office, recruitment and training of officials, etc. The Act provides for a sufficient period for entry into force in order to allow for preparation and implementation of the changes.
During the debate, Kaja Kallas (Reform Party), Priit Sibul (Isamaa), Tõnis Mölder (Centre Party), Indrek Saar (Social Democratic Party) and Siim Pohlak (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) took the floor.
Kallas referred to the fact that the tasks of the National Audit Office did not include the exercise of oversight over the activities of political parties. Therefore it is unjustified to make such an amendment. She moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. Sibul expressed support to the Bill. In his opinion, the discussion should be taken to the Supreme Court if necessary, in order to bring clarity as to whether the amendment is in conformity with the Constitution. He added that proceedings on the ongoing matters would definitely have to be continued on the basis of legal continuity. Mölder analysed the activities of the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee so far, and was very critical of it. He therefore considered it necessary to make changes regarding the issue of the oversight of the funding of political parties. Saar explained that if the National Audit Office were given the task of monitoring the covert funding of political parties, it might become more politically biased. Saar also drew attention to the fact that, now that the crisis situation was over, the Riigikogu was expected to address much weightier matters instead. Saar also moved to reject the Bill at the first reading. Pohlak justified why the Bill was necessary and called on to make proposals to amend the Bill in the course of the proceedings.
The results of the vote to reject the Bill at the first reading: 46 votes in favour and 53 against. The motion was not supported. The first reading was concluded. The deadline for submission of motions to amend is 15 May.
At the open microphone session, Helmen Kütt took the floor.
The sitting ended at 6.24 p.m.
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