TALLINN - During a meeting of a select committee of the Estonian parliament on Tuesday, Peep Jahilo, head of the Office of the Estonian President, expressed his surprise over the financial issues of the presidential office having reached the proportions of a scandal, noting that the comments by the president's adviser Toomas Sildam were made in a friendly and lighthearted manner.
Select committee chairman Urmas Reinsalu said that the recently surfaced public concerns about the connections between funding for the office and the presidential institution promulgating laws are grave.
"We need clear answers. The presidential institution must be completely independent, and its funding must be transparent. There is no room for any doubt," Reinsalu stressed.
However, Jahilo said that he was surprised by Friday's article in Postimees, which revealed Sildam's remarks about financial requests, especially regarding any disputes.
"There was no dispute! I detected no such element. I found no violation as these were informal comments made in a friendly and jocular tone, except for the first one where Sildam inquired about our request," Jahilo elaborated..
According to Jahilo, the whole issue stemmed from the presidential office's need to request additional funds in the middle of the fiscal year.
"Asking for money during the ongoing year is illogical. All the necessary funds should be on a permanent basis, which has been consistent for years. We received an additional 60,000 euros to enhance the president's foreign relations capability, but inflation consumed it, and the austerity plan from 2021, which requires annual cuts, still stands. In reality, our budget remains unchanged. A situation where the president needs to make a visit concerning the war in Ukraine but cannot due to lack of funds should never arise. A vital level must be guaranteed," he emphasized.
Jahilo said he felt the issue has escalated unpleasantly.
"I feel the matter wasn't really as it was presented, as if there was some sort of trading with influence. It's just unclear communication. Someone said something somewhere, but the exact wording is unknown to us. There were no third parties present in these conversations. I trust the staff of my office," Jahilo said.
Postimees reported on Friday that in May, the Office of the President approached the finance minister, requesting an additional 360,000 euros from the government's reserve. This was followed by discussions and phone calls linking the financial request from the presidential office with the president promulgating the laws adopted in the parliament. The presidential office's request was ultimately denied.
On Monday, Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance Merike Saks told Postimees that it was the president's adviser, Toomas Sildam, who had a conversation with her in which he linked the allocation of funds to the presidential office and the promulgation of laws. According to Saks, there were hints that a lack of resources was hindering quick operations, and with added resources, the office could work faster.