Access to information on incorporated public services (FI0025)
To secure open and transparent decision-making the access to information principle will be widened to apply also to those public services that are produced in a company format.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
3. Widening the access to information principle to public services that are incorporated.
Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan:
“To secure open and transparent decision-making the access to information principle will be widened to apply also to those public services that are produced in a company format.”[Note : Finland National Action Plan 2017-2019 (in English), https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Finland_NAP_2017-2019_EN.pdf.]
Start Date: Not identified
End Date: Not identified
Context and Objectives
This commitment seeks to ensure open and transparent decision-making in cases in which public services are produced in company format, as opposed to public services that are produced by government-run agencies. The pilot plans for Regional Government, Health and Social Services Reform include elements that indicate an increase in the role of public-private partnerships in the production of public services, making this commitment timely. This commitment addresses real concerns surrounding efficacy in the use of public funds, openness, and transparency.[Note : Satu Grekin, Head of Business and Competition Affairs, The Federation of Finnish Enterprises. Email interview 11.02.2019.] In 2013, the Finnish government approved amendments to the so-called municipal (HE 32/2013)[Note : Finlex, HE 32/2013, https://www.finlex.fi/fi/esitykset/he/2013/20130032.] and competition (HE 40/2013) laws[Note : Finlex, HE 40/2013, https://www.finlex.fi/fi/esitykset/he/2013/20130040.] with the aim of improving competitive neutrality, in other words, to level the playing field between state-owned and private businesses. The amendments were prompted by two remarks by the European Commission in 2006 and 2010 concerning the distorting effect on free market competition that municipal enterprises like Destia (road and rail construction) and Palmia (food, real estate, cleaning, security and office space services) were causing in Finland. The amended municipal law obligates municipalities to incorporate their activities when said activities are conducted in a competitive market. The term “to incorporate” means the formation of a new corporation, which in turn means that its activities come to be conducted under the Limited Liability Companies Act. Because of this, the transition created new problems regarding transparency in the use of public funds. In 2016, a municipally owned construction company Länsimetro Oy did not disclose documents relating to a major expansion of the Helsinki Metro, invoking trade secret privilege, meaning that public officials did not receive up-to-date information on major delays and overspending.[Note : Länsimetro salaa raportin kustannuksista ja viivästyksistä – taustalla oikeusoppineiden varovaisuus. 13.4.2017 https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9565887. Kirsi Väätämöinen, Lawyer, SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health. Email interview 19.02.2019.]
The access to information principle[Note : 12.4. Access to Information principle, http://lainkirjoittaja.finlex.fi/12-yleislait-ja-eraat-yleiset-saantelyt/12-4/.] obliges Finnish public administration to make meeting minutes and documents relating to decision-making both publicly available and accessible. However, the access to information principle is currently interpreted as encompassing only government administration activities, and it does not consider incorporated activities. The conducting of government activities through or within limited liability companies “diminishes the transparency required for the use of public funds as well as the transparency of decision-making.”[Note : Ministry of Justice, consultation 6.3.2017, p. 30, https://avoinhallinto.fi/assets/files/2017/06/Lausuntoyhteenveto-III-toimintaohjelma.pdf.] Therefore, the commitment seeks to extend the access to information principle beyond its current scope to cover at least some company-format actors that produce public services.[Note : “Social and health reform enterprises to be part of the access to information law.” YLE News, published 13.8.2016, accessed 13.11.2018, https://yle.fi/uutiet/3-9091215.]
During the consultation period of the action plan, several CSOs remarked that the commitment lacks a responsible institution, information on a working group, and a clear schedule.[Note : Summary of comments on Finland’s third national action plan submitted during the consultation period 2 February –3 March 2017, p.30-38, https://avoinhallinto.fi/assets/files/2017/06/Lausuntoyhteenveto-III-toimintaohjelma.pdf.] If implemented, the commitment could have a high potential impact in preventing corruption and the misuse of public funds. However, although the commitment is timely, it does not directly address situations in which public services are outsourced to privately owned companies.[Note : Kirsi Väätämöinen, Lawyer, SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health. Email interview 19.02.2019.] A representative of Transparency International Finland was also concerned that the access to information principle would still not prevent companies from invoking trade secret privilege to conceal their procurement processes.[Note : Tommi Niinimäki, Chairperson of Transparency International Finland, consultation 3.3.2017, ibid. p. 31.]
It should be noted that due to the uncertain status of the Regional Government, Health and Social Services Reform, the ultimate impact of this commitment is difficult to assess.[Note : Kirsi Väätämöinen, Lawyer, SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health. Email interview 19.02.2019.] Whether the implementation of this commitment requires a change in law is currently under review by the Ministry of Justice.[Note : Johanna Nurmi, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Finance (Finland). Email interview 26.02.2019.] This review was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018, but the Ministry of Justice had not completed it as of February 2019.[Note : Ibid.] Applying the access to information principle to company-format publicly owned companies could place publicly owned companies at a strategic disadvantage in the marketplace if privately owned companies lack similar standards of accountability as providers of outsourced public services. This might violate competition neutrality.[Note : Kirsi Väätämöinen, Lawyer, SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health. Email interview 19.02.2019.]
Due to the likely increase in company-format public services caused by the upcoming Regional Government, Health and Social Services Reform,[Note : For more information on the Regional Government, Health and Social Services Reform, please see
https://alueuudistus.fi/en/frontpage.] the commitment’s aim to expand openness and transparency for these operators is well timed. The government could identify the responsible institution and deadline for this commitment to improve its specificity.
The IRM researcher recommends that:
- The government ensure that the review by the Ministry of Justice is carried through;
- The government provide clarification as to whether outsourced public services produced by privately owned businesses are included in the scope of the commitment;
- Due to a likely increase in public-private partnerships and company-format public services in the production of public services Regional Government, Health and Social Services Reform on the way in which public services are to be provided, it might be worth extending this commitment to cover several action plans.
Supporting everyone’s possibility to participate.
FI0023, 2017, E-Government
Clear government reforms and services
FI0024, 2017, Fiscal Transparency
Access to information on incorporated public services
FI0025, 2017, Fiscal Transparency
Access to information knowledge in the public administration
FI0026, 2017, Capacity Building
Publishing state procurement data to citizens
FI0027, 2017, E-Government
Regional Reform information
FI0028, 2017, Infrastructure & Transport
Training regional administration in open government principles
FI0029, 2017, Capacity Building
FI0019, 2015, E-Government
Government as an enabler
FI0020, 2015, E-Government
FI0021, 2015, E-Government
Engage Children, Youth, Elderly
FI0022, 2015, Public Participation
Enhancing the openness of preparatory processes
FI0001, 2013, E-Government
Emphasizing dialogue skills in the job descriptions of civil servants
FI0002, 2013, Capacity Building
Strengthening proactive publishing and communication
FI0003, 2013, Capacity Building
Promoting participatory budgeting
FI0004, 2013, Participation in Budget Processes
Increasing openness and customer orientation in ICT and e-services development
FI0005, 2013, E-Government
Increasing the number of open and online meetings
FI0006, 2013, E-Government
Standard language titles and resumes will be drafted of the Government proposals.
FI0007, 2013, Capacity Building
Visualization of decisions
FI0008, 2013, E-Government
Training will be organised for civil servants in use of clear language and plain language in- cluding committing to use of terms already known.
FI0009, 2013, Capacity Building
The comprehensibility of the texts produced by public administration will be tested to- gether with citizens and service users.
FI0010, 2013, Capacity Building
Standardizing and clarifying the terms and concepts used in public administration and ser- vice production.
FI0011, 2013, Capacity Building
The comprehensibility of customer letters and decisions will be enhanced, especially when using standard texts.
FI0012, 2013, Capacity Building
Opening and publishing new data and changing existing open data into a machine- readable form.
FI0013, 2013, Open Data
Clear terms for use of for open data and knowledge
FI0014, 2013, Open Data
Strengthening skills needed to understand combining privacy and open data and strength- ening the citizen’s right to his/her own personal information “the right to be anonymous”
FI0015, 2013, Capacity Building
Tearing down barriers of action of the civil society
FI0016, 2013, Capacity Building
The proactive presence and accessibility of civil servants
FI0017, 2013, Capacity Building
Providing tools and training to organizations
FI0018, 2013, Capacity Building