Big hotel bills raise question of perks

  • 2002-10-03
  • Aleksei Gunter

Estonia's Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland admitted last week she had not used the hotel room in Tallinn the state paid for when she was an MP and agreed to pay back part of the money.

The case has drawn attention to the substantial perks that Estonian officials receive.

In December 2000 when Ojuland was an MP, the state chancellery rented a room for her at the upmarket Pirita Hotel in Tallinn for 14 months, at a total cost of over 124,000 kroons (7,930 euros).

Ojuland, a member of the Reform Party, never actually stayed at the hotel, but chose to stay at a state-owned summer cottage in Keila-Joa not far from the capital, according to the Postimees daily.

In a letter to the state chancellery last week Ojuland offered to pay her hotel bill for the last two months.

"I have not stayed in the hotel that often in the last several months of the rent period, but I agree to pay for the last two months although no legal act demands me to do so," she wrote.

But she rejected calls for her resignation saying that her political opponents did not deserve to score points over the matter.

"I would resign if Estonia were encountering problems in NATO or EU (accession) talks, or if the EU accession referendum were to fail," Ojuland told journalists.

According to the chancellery, the bills for December 2001 and January 2002 come to roughly 18,000 kroons.

As a result of the case Toomas Savi, chair of Estonia's Parliament, called for a review of the system of reimbursing the expenses of officials and paying them bonuses.

"The Parliament will start working on that in the near future," Savi told the Eesti Paevaleht daily.

Costs could be cut by building a hotel specially for MPs, he added.

The state chancellery said it currently rented apartments in Tallinn on behalf of 37 out of Estonia's 101 MPs. The cost to the state so far this year has been 1.9 million kroons.

Since the Ojuland case became public two Reform party MPs, Meelis Atonen and Neinar Seli, have requested that rental contracts the state has on their behalf be terminated.

Further examination of the landlords' list revealed that Seli rented a flat from a firm registered at the same address and with the same phone number as a company he owns.

Meanwhile Juri Adams, an MP for the Pro Patria Union, rents a flat from a close acquaintance, and Peeter Olesk from the same party rents his sister's apartment.

Prime Minister Siim Kallas, chair of the Reform party came to Ojuland's defense, saying, "She was not aware of the money paid for her, so basically she is giving the state a present."

The bonus system for state officials needs adjustment, he conceded.

MPs salaries are tied to the national average and exceed the average by four times - currently they stand at 25,412 kroons.

The Parliament speaker gets six times the average salary, the deputy speaker 5.5 times the average, and the chair of a parliamentary commission 5 times the average.

Every MP receives an additional 20 percent of his salary tax free to cover other costs, but also between 3,100 kroons and 3,600 kroons to cover transport and communications bills.

MPs salaries amount to between 40 percent and 75 percent of their salaries depending on the length of their career as an MP.

Parliament members registered outside the Tallinn area are entitled to up to 5,000 kroons per month to cover apartment rental costs, or 9,000 kroons to cover hotel accommodation.

In addition every MP living outside Tallinn receives 80 kroons per working day of the Parliament.

Travel expense claims are subject to a 700 kroon daily limit for trips within Estonia and 1,700 kroons for trips abroad, but the limits can be exceeded with the express permission of the institution a person works for.