Corruption Perception Index is a yearly survey made by Transparency International. Finland has persisted at the top positions in the index with score of around 90 points. Now in 2017, the score has dropped to 85. We are experiencing freedom of expression issues with media that suggests a change in trend.
Transparency International raises in their analysis Finland as one of the most worrying cases in Western Europe as there has been issues with indistinct borders between public and private interests, and people holding public office are not maintaining a proper culture of recusing themselves from decisions that may affect them.
In 2017, Finnish officials have suffered a series of conflict of interest scandals. Prime Minister, Prosecutor General, Head of Customs and the head of the Helsinki drug police just to name but a few.
In Finland, there has been questions over “freedom of speech at the national broadcaster – dubbed “Ylegate” – after claims that the editor-in-chief had bowed to political pressure when he muzzled reports on stories about potential conflicts of interest by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä late last year.” At least five journalists have left Yle as a result.
“Finland’s Prime Minister since 2015, Juha Sipilä (the Centre Party) is a millionaire and former businessman who has been reluctant in answering journalists’ questions about his assets and investments.” Prime Ministers funds are mostly in an insurance policy and he did not further disclose his declaration of interest. This has resulted in a strenuous relationship not only with public service broadcaster but media in general.
Sipilä’s government has driven a series of privatisation and corporatisation of public assets that have raised questions over lack of openness and conflict of interest regarding public funds. Sipilä has been criticised of having a history of building his fortunes by using public funds before becoming a politician.
Even when the Finnish press has a high level of freedom, access to information about conflicts of interest, such as ownership or tax information, is often limited for journalists. Also the Finnish Parliament has observed this but has not taken action.
According to the Eurobarometer in 2017 the Finns are generally one of the most law-abiding people in Europe. There is very little street-level bribery with teachers, traffic police, and public officials. When relatively few people approve of bribes or gifts being exchanged, it appears most companies’ compliance with regulation would also be on somewhat good level. Instead, there is a group of one in thirty who think exchanging favors with public office holders is always approvable. Exchange of corrupt favors in Finland is therefore on the European average level, on par with for example Italy or Lithuania.
According to the Chairman of Transparency International Finland, Jaakko Korhonen, “This data from these three European sources shows us again how the idea of Finland as corruption-free is a myth. White-collar corruption has been hidden on the premise of privacy laws even from investigative officials. Even when Finland shows example in openness, there are serious problems with hiding financial information and conflicts of interest. Large-scale privatisation and corporatisation programs are under way, but there has been very little effort to reduce organisations’ vulnerability to corruption. Public office holders are not maintaining a proper culture of recusing themselves, and the press has very limited access to financial information or disclosure of conflict of interest.
We should be aware that even when there is a law abiding history in Finland, the tomorrow we are building should not be taken for granted. A small European country in an internationalised world is vulnerable in a historical scale to international white-collar crime in the digital age.”
TI Finland editorial 21.2.2018 20:15.
Additional information: Jaakko Korhonen, Chairman, Transparency International Finland, +358 50 3285 285, jaakko.korhonen[at]transparency.fi.