By Jaclyn M. Sindrich

  • 2000-02-24
  • Web site exposes government spending
TALLINN – A woman clicks on a mouse to buy a pair of glittery red heels. A vacationing daughter sends her father on the other side of the ocean an E-mail. American journalist Matt Drudge breaks the Bill and Monica scandal on his Web site, The Drudge Report.

The Internet: the ever-popular tool of commerce, communication and exposure. Why should government spending be excluded? In Estonia, it won't be for much longer.

On its own accord, the Finance Ministry will launch its new Web site for the public in Aprilfeaturing daily updates of all government ministries' expenditures, according to Daniel Vaarik, Finance Ministry adviser.

All costs of services provided to ministries and government institutions by private firms are to be included, and in the coming months, he said, even the money spent on coffee could be made available for the everyday Web surfer to monitor.

"We have done more than I think the public was expecting," Vaarik said with a chuckle.

The system has taken four years and 11 million kroons ($690,000) to develop. Most of the money came in the form of foreign assistance, he said.

Marko Otsing, head of development in the Treasury Department, said that in a small country like Estonia, "where everybody knows everybody else," this is the best control mechanism against shady business relationships.

Toomas Taltas likes the idea of revealing Estonian ministries' spending habits on the Web and thinks it will prove quite popular with the public.

"It is interesting to know what they spend. . .and it's fair," the Tele 2 Internet product manager said.

The project was undertaken not just for the people's sake, but also for its usefulness to the ministries themselves, enabling them to keep track of what is going on in their own institutions.

With increased accountability and openness, Estonia should become more attractive to foreign businesses who may hold suspicions about corrupt practices in the former Soviet republic.

"It will be easier to do business in Estonia because entrepreneurs will have more information. For the whole economy it is useful," Vaarik said.

Executive Director of Transparency International in Latvia, Diana Kurpniece, agreed that the act is a positive step for Estonia.

"They have had these kinds of things in Scandinavia for years. . . . If information about tenders is more transparent, it will be more attractive for [foreign businesses] to apply," she said.

Although implementation is expected to go smoothly, Vaarik foresees possible problems, such as the misinterpretation of the data. But, he added, the goal of getting the information out will not be overshadowed.

And fears of hacker attacks? The data will be copied to a separate server to avert foul play, but the caveat of recent attacks against such mega-sites as Yahoo! and eBay remain fairly clear: no one on the Web, at least not yet, seems to be invincible.