Supervision of executive power

Besides legislation, another significant function of the Riigikogu consists of supervising the executive power. The parliament’s tasks include nominating various higher officials. For instance: the Riigikogu confirms the prime minister to office; in addition it has a decisive say in nominating the Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court, the Chair and members of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, the Auditor General, the Legal Chancellor and the Commander or Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Presidential elections have also been entrusted to the Riigikogu. If one presidential candidate manages to gather at least 2/3 of the votes of the deputies, (s)he is automatically elected, and there is no need to convene the special electoral college consisting of the Riigikogu deputies and the representatives of local governments.

The Riigikogu also possesses various means of holding the executive power to account. The parliament has the right to present a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, the entire government or individual ministers — regardless of the fact that Riigikogu is not actually directly involved in nominating the ministers, who are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. In the parliamentary practice of the newly independent Estonia, both entire governments and individual ministers have been subjected to votes of no confidence. Such a motion of censure also serves as a potent mechanism for expressing opposition as part of the political struggle, even if it fails in parliament.

Moreover, the Riigikogu has the right to pass laws and regulations that can impose additional limits on the activities of executive power. As part of the process of approving the budget, for example, it is possible to prevent the financing of unwelcome activities or restrict the financing of structures that have not adequately fulfilled their tasks. The Riigikogu, however, is not the only body that checks the functioning of executive power. The economic activity of the latter is controlled by the State Audit Office, and its conformity with the law by the Legal Chancellor.

In order to keep an eye on the administrative system, the Riigikogu uses select committees that are set up for researching a certain problem. The work of such committees is usually conducted behind closed doors. Their activity is recorded in a final report that contains suggestions for improving laws or the work of the executive branch. The role of the Riigikogu committees is therefore not comparable with that of the respective committees of the US Senate, whose activity is accompanied by public sessions, sworn witnesses and keen interest on the part of the public. The formation of the select committees is in itself a signal to the representatives of executive power that their work is under scrutiny.

Considerably more arresting means at the disposal of Riigikogu are the queries and questions put to ministers at the information hour each Wednesday. Naturally, these debates cannot be compared with the corresponding practice in the British parliament, which has been shaped by centuries-long experience. Nevertheless, from the point of view of maintaining their reputation, it is important for the ministers to be able to answer the questions put to them in a satisfactory manner. The opposition thus has a chance to hold ministers to account (at least to a certain extent) and to influence the activity of the executive power.

Regarding the exchange of internal information within the Riigikogu, an important role belongs to the ‘free microphone’ sessions held on Monday mornings. After the end of the previously confirmed agenda, each Riigikogu member has the right to publicly turn to the other members and express his/her opinion, point of view or any other kind of information.

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