Editorial: a toothless state

PHOTO: Urmas Nemvalts

If an ordinary paid worker owes money, a bailiff demands that he pay up. Limits are set to use of bank account. From registers, they will find about his assets and can apply forced sales. He keeps paying until the debt is covered. In the worst cases, he also pays the absurdly large fines for delay, and the tough collection costs.

In Estonia, does all that only apply to those who lack the brains and options for trickery, in order to avoid payments? Let’s not forget honesty! Surely, it also applies to those whose conscience permits them not to lie, beat about the bush, and manoeuvre to hide real income.

For years, Estonia’s sad refrain has been how little of the stolen money has been returned by former Cultural Endowment head Avo Viiol. In Postimees today, we read about Väino Pentus, owner of the bankrupt transport company Autorollo having thus far returned less than a hundred euros of the debt of over €800,000. We are talking about three years – averaging two euros and 60 cents a month. Try as you may to have compassion on such debtors, what else can this be as mockery of creditors, and of the state whose courts ruled that the debt be paid.

Four years ago, as the Mr Viiol case was up again, then justice minister Kristen Michal told Postimees this was in violation of feeling of justice in society and promised to keep a close eye on developments, adding: «Anyway, the message in clear – in such cases, the life of debtors may definitely not be easy and comfy.» The promise is yet to be fulfilled.

The issue being: the state is helpless to adequately react to reality. For many among us, the daily life consist not of the usual paid labour for which we get this specific amount on bank account at end of month. The state is helpless to assess actual income of people. Alas, it is helpless to hold even tax evaders accountable.

It’s not limited to financial relations only. As a letter is sent by court or some other branch of state authority to a person, many are the ways to cheat and claim he never got the court summons or whatever.

How sad when the authorities are only mighty to rule over the honest and the fools, while the tricksters against whom the police and courts are created look on laughing. While it is important to protect the rights of debtors, and those suspected or charged or even convicted, the victims do have their rights – and thus need to be effectively protected. It just cannot be that the execution of a court sentence is just... an option.

Cartoon: «Can't pay the debt, this month...» «Why didn't you borrow more money, stupid? You could've hired a lawyer and he'd helped you not pay back a penny!»