Supreme Court shoots down wage bill

  • 2009-02-25
  • From wire reports

PAY DAY: Some experts backed the president's objections and argued that by 'freezing wages' the parliament was actually ensuring that their paychecks would not fall along with everyone elses.

TALLINN - The Estonian Supreme Court has declared that the freezing of wages for members of parliament is unconstitutional, satisfying a complaint lodged by President Toomas Hendrick Ilves.
The Supreme Court found that freezing of the members' of parliament pay was not in agreement with Article 75 of the Constitution. The article states that the members' of parliament pay 's and limitations on the payment of other remuneration 's can only be regulated through a law that would take effect after the next round of parliamentary elections.

The full assembly of the Supreme Court said that exceptions to the members' of parliament pay could only be made if a failure to change the pay scheme would pose a danger to parliamentarians' independence, freedom to use their mandate or defense of the country.

"There are no such situations in the present case, as a result of which no exception can be made in the application of Article 75 of the Constitution," the Supreme Court said in its decision.
The Supreme Court found in its ruling that few situations could be considered to apply 's situations such as hyperinflation or a state of emergency, whereby the previous legislature established an insufficient amount of remuneration for their successors, were given as examples.
The Court also pointed out that the ban provided for in the Constitution did not apply to members' of parliament expense accounts.

It added that the expense account could not serve other aims such as covering expenses of a political faction, financing a party or covering electoral costs. The expense account could likewise not be used to provide additional pay to a member of parliament.
Opinions from law experts on the topic are varied. Because of the wide range of views, Justice Chancellor Indrek Teder, along with his predecessors Allar Joks and Eerik-Juhan Truuvali, have all found that the pay freezes were in line with the constitution.

Other lawyers have supported the view of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, however. They argue that Article 75 of the Constitution is a provision protecting the parliamentary system and that any amendment to sitting MPs' wages is within the sphere of its effect.
Ilves has earlier said that passing the act the parliament started to decide issues for which it had no right according to the Constitution and if such a way of action was accepted it opened the possibility for decisions ignoring the article of the Constitution and distorting its sense also in the future.
On Nov. 19, parliament passed the bill regulating MPs' pay with 53 votes in favor. The bill was passed for the second time on Dec. 2, when 58 lawmakers voted in favor.

On Dec. 11, Ilves turned to the Supreme Court with an application to declare the act of freezing the members' of parliament pay unconstitutional.
The aim of the act was to freeze the members' of parliament pay until Feb. 28, 2010, taking the average wages of the last quarter of 2007 as the basis. Without the bill, the pay for parliamentarians would have fallen alongside the average wage. 

Freezing wages would also have influenced service pensions and the lawmakers' expense accounts, which make up as much as 30 percent of their pay.