Change of course might have been result of lobbying

Oliver Kund
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The idea to abruptly hike the third child benefit to curb population decrease appeared in the Reform Party's program virtually overnight in December of 2014. Some politicians now admit they knew the decision might bring a donation.

Postimees wrote yesterday how eight businessmen – Priit Alamäe, Karli Lambot, Parvel Pruunsild, Margus Linnamäe, Jaan Tallinn, Vahur Voll, Heldur Meerits, and Aivar Berzin – donated a total of €800,000 to political parties last year to support policies to favor population increase. The news quickly resulted in a chicken or the egg type dispute in which parties claimed the idea to hike child benefits was there long before entrepreneurs decided to support it.

It turns out that the decisive step was taken virtually overnight on December 5, 2014. That is when the board of the Reform Party approved the demographics chapter of the party's new program that included the election promise of hiking the third child benefit to €300 a month.

The Reform Party's sudden change of heart first and foremost surprised its competitors who described the idea as welcome but the party's behavior as controversial. Secretary general of the Social Democrat Party (SDE) at the time Indrek Saar said that it is the Reform Party that has maintained the child benefit at €19 for a decade. Former head of the reformists Andrus Ansip used to compare benefit hikes to throwing money out of an airplane.

Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL) chairman at the time Urmas Reinsalu was not pleased: „IRL proposed hiking the third child benefit from €100 to €120 in the Riigikogu in June. Back then the Reform Party voted against it. Now they have come out with an idea a group of entrepreneurs have tried to sell to all parties,“ he said.

Was the Reform Party's change of heart caused by the promise of donations?

Former secretary general of the Reform Party, businessman Martin Kukk said that he did meet with Parvel Pruunsild to discuss the matter. „I vaguely remember he made a promise to support the party, to which I replied that while that is an admirable sentiment, these things need to be kept separate,“ Kukk recalled.

Next the party's Riigikogu faction met with Pruunsild. Economist Raul Eamets presented calculations and studies to support a positive trend in population change. „I remember that the idea to give families with three children more support in the future seemed positive, and that is how it started,“ Kukk said.

Former IRL secretary general Tiit Riisalo does not acknowledge entrepreneurs' influence. „I do not remember separate talks concerning the third child. If you ask whether I've been present at any such agreement, I can tell you honestly that I haven't.“