Last week, independent MEP Indrek Tarand and the second most popular politician in the country judging by last week's vote total for the European Parliament, gave a press conference on the occasion of his re-election. Tarand, who purports to be waging war against what he sees as a political party-dominated establishment, also reserved criticism for a range of NGOs, saying they were an extension of the same system.
"I won't mention names," said Tarand, and then did. "But you know these groups: Network of Estonian Non-Profit Organizations (EMSL), the National Foundation for Civil Society, Cooperation Assembly, Debating Society, Estonian Internet Community."
"These people are not a NGO sector. An NGO sector operates so that citizens get a common goal and also practice a common area of activity, gathering membership dues. And as they ware economically able, they carry out goals and do not try to ingratiate themselves at all cost to the parties that fund them."
EMSL's Urmo Kübar responded in a piece on uudised.err.ee, saying that Tarand was in error, and that NGOs do not get a free ride from the state.
"State budget subsidies make up 15 percent of EMSL's budget, the same amount that we get from membership dies, donations and as income from organizing training. The remaining two-thirds is derived part from the various state and private funds, including EU funds. No party finances us. All this information is public on our website. It would be nice if the parliament deputy who himself gets 100 percent of his funding, along with his office and assistant, from the state, would check his facts better."
Kübar also said that membership dues were in fact the most widespread income source for Estonian NGOs: a study found that 58 percent of NGOs listed it as one of their top three sources.
Major OSCE countries range from 31 percent (US) to Belgium and Ireland (77 percent) in the share of taxpayer funding that their NGOs get, Kübar said. The only countries that meet Tarand's dream are Kenya (5 percent) and Uganda (7 percent).