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Finland

Register of Government Decision-Making (FI0032)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Finland Action Plan 2019-2023

Action Plan Cycle: 2019

Status: Active

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of Justice

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Anti-Corruption, Conflicts of Interest, E-Government, Legislation & Regulation, Open Parliaments, Participation in Lawmaking, Public Participation

IRM Review

IRM Report: Finland Design Report 2019-2023, Finland Implementation Report 2017-2019

Starred: Pending IRM Review

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Civic Participation

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion: Pending IRM Review

Description

There is a good legal foundation for openness in Finland. As the world changes, the legal foundation also requires supplementation. An international comparative study on lobby registers was carried out based on a commitment in the II Action Plan of open government. A parliamentary committee was established after the study and it issued an unanimous proposition recommending the establishment of the transparency register.

The transparency register will offer citizens information on the parties that seek to influence decision-making. Decision-makers will be provided more in-depth information on the roles of the parties that seek to influence them. The register will help lobbyists to provide more information about their lobbying and influencing activities in an increasingly open manner.

Of the OGP initiatives, the transparency register corresponds particularly to that of transparency and accountability.

Establishment of transparency register
In accordance with the Government Programme, a law on the transparency register will be enacted after parliamentary preparation and consultation with civil society. The purpose of the act is to improve the transparency of decision-making and, through this, prevent inappropriate influences and strengthen public confidence.

In the preparation of the transparency register legislation, the basic rights and freedoms of natural persons will be taken into account and special attention will be paid to the safety of their personal data.

It will be established whether it will be possible to include data on the outside employment and private interests of public officials. Government officials are required to submit notifications of their private interests and outside employment. If working hours are used for the tasks of the outside employment or if it can impact the impartiality of a government official, a permit to engage in outside employment will be required. The data submitted has not been recorded in a register.

It will furthermore be explored whether it will be possible to collect records of the parties invited to parliamentary committee hearings in a single transparency register. It could also be possible to append a list of the post-employment waiting period agreements as referred to in the State Civil Servants Act.

It will also be established whether it will be possible to collect private interests data on a municipal level into a national transparency register.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

3. Transparency Register

Main Objective

“There is a good legal foundation for openness in Finland. As the world changes, the legal foundation also requires supplementation. An international comparative study on lobby registers was carried out based on a commitment in the II Action Plan of open government. A parliamentary committee was established after the study and it issued an unanimous proposition recommending the establishment of the transparency register. The transparency register will offer citizens information on the parties that seek to influence decision making. Decision-makers will be provided more in-depth information on the roles of the parties that seek to influence them. The register will help lobbyists to provide more information about their lobbying and influencing activities in an increasingly open manner.”

Milestones

Establishment of transparency register. A law on the transparency register will be enacted after parliamentary preparation and consultation with civil society. It will be established whether it will be possible to include data on the outside employment and private interests of public officials. It will furthermore be explored whether it will be possible to collect records of the parties invited to parliamentary committee hearings in a single transparency register. It could also be possible to append a list of the post-employment waiting period agreements as referred to in the State Civil Servants Act. It will also be established whether it will be possible to collect private interests data on a municipal level into a national transparency register.

Editorial Note: For the complete text of this commitment, please see Finland’s action plan at https://avoinhallinto.fi/assets/files/2019/09/ENGLANTI_Avoin-hallinto_IV_toimintaohjelma_FINAL_240919-1.pdf.

Commitment Analysis

This commitment aims to improve the transparency of public decision-making processes in Finland. It builds from Commitment 3 in Finland’s second action plan (2015-2017), which assessed the need for establishing a lobby register and produced a comparative report on lobby register systems in selected countries. [34] After the publication of the report, the Finnish Parliament established a parliamentary committee, which supports setting up a transparency register (avoimuusrekisteri) in Finland to regulate and document lobbying activity. [35] Creating a lobby regulation is also one of the goals in Finland’s National Democracy Program 2025. [36] According to the Ministry of Justice, the commitment aims to open up the central government’s and Parliament’s decision-making process for public scrutiny and improve the detection of potentially unhealthy forms of lobbying. [37] To this end, the Ministry of Justice will spearhead the development of a legal basis and design a technical solution for a public transparency register to allow systematic registration of actors seeking to influence decision making. It will also enable public monitoring of communication between lobbyists and government officials.

The commitment is relevant to the OGP value of access to information as it intends to provide the public with comprehensive information on who has influenced public decision-making processes and how. According to Niklas Wilhelmsson from the Ministry of Justice, the register’s planning process will also involve discussions on possible sanctions to be applied in case of non-compliance with the obligation to register or record meetings with lobbyists. Experts from Transparency International Finland (the national chapter of Transparency International) consider the enforcement of sanctions as crucial for achieving greater accountability. [38] Such sanctions could include fines or denying organizations that have not registered the right to meet government officials. If such sanctions are specified in the law, the commitment may improve public accountability. This, however, can only be determined once the law has been adopted. According to the planned timeline, this is expected to happen by 2023. [39]

Some general measures supporting the transparency of public decision making already exist at the national level. These include the Act on the Openness of Government Activities, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Ministry of Justice’s instructions for legislative drafting. [40] The ministry and the government’s Advisory Board for Civil Service Ethics have also raised public officials’ awareness of ways to avoid conflicts of interest. The ministry recently launched a portal where citizens can monitor ongoing policy initiatives and see the mandate and compositions of policy working groups. [41] However, to date, Finland has no clear rules to regulate lobbying activity, [42] no reporting requirements on communication between lobbyists and public officials, [43] no open lobbying data [44] nor other possibilities for the public to monitor the policy-making process. [45] Transparency experts also cite the “revolving door” phenomenon, deeply rooted structural corruption, and the strong influence of informal “old boys’ networks” as problems that affect the transparency of decision making, particularly in city planning and construction. [46] Transparency International Finland has stated that lobby regulation would be an important step towards making decision-making processes more transparent and helping ensure that different parties have equal opportunities to exert influence on policy-making. [47] At the same time, it is also expected to contribute to advancing a broader culture of transparency. [48] The commitment therefore addresses a clear gap in the country’s transparency landscape.

If implemented as planned, this commitment could transform the transparency of government decision-making practices in Finland. The government has already set up a broad-based participation process to include different stakeholders in shaping the legislation and technical solutions. A parliamentary committee representing all political parties steers the work and the Ministry of Justice has convened a governmental working group involving ministries, researchers, civil society, and lobby groups to conduct the operational work. [49] The ministry conducted an online consultation with the general public in April-May 2020 to solicit citizens’ ideas, [50] and will launch a more targeted consultation process involving up to 100 key stakeholders (CSOs, lobby organizations, labor market organizations, law firms, and expert organizations) to agree on the requirements and details of the transparency register. [51] These details will include which organizations should be obligated to register, which institutions would be subject to the obligation of recording their meetings with lobbyists, what types of data should be recorded in or linked to the register, which organization would be responsible for maintaining the register and monitoring compliance, and what sanctions would apply for non-compliance. The government intends to make use of the register compulsory and extend the obligation both to executive and legislative branches of government. [52]

The Ministry of Justice also wishes to develop a user-friendly interface for citizens to follow the decision-making process. The aim is to connect existing information on draft legislative projects [53] with data from the lobby register in a single portal to allow the public to easily follow the status of policy initiatives and see which organizations have influenced the process. If deemed legally and technically feasible, the portal may also include data on decision-makers’ private economic interests. According to the current plans, [54] the legislative proposal should be ready by the summer of 2021, sent to Parliament in 2022 and enforced in 2023. The government aims to develop the technical system in parallel and, if possible, launch it shortly after the law enters into force.

To maximize the transparency register’s impact on access to information and public accountability, the IRM researcher recommends establishing clear consequences for non-compliance in the underlying regulation and extending the registration obligation to local municipalities in future action plans. According to Salla Nazarenko from Transparency International Finland, it is also important to train officials and lobbyists on understanding the regulation and using the system once it exists. [55] Further, experts hope the development of the regulation will also involve discussions on how to address the issue of revolving doors and public officials’ conflicts of interest in municipal decision making. [56] During the current action plan period, the government could devote particular attention to developing an easily accessible citizen interface for the lobby register. The government could prioritize the accessibility of the interface and use language and visuals that are understandable to citizens with different linguistic needs.

[37] Interview with Niklas Wilhelmsson, Ministry of Justice, 20 April 2020.
[38] Interview with Salla Nazarenko, Transparency International Finland and member of the governmental lobby register working group, 27 April 2020.
[39] Interview with Niklas Wilhelmsson, Ministry of Justice.
[42] Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), Fifth Evaluation Round: Preventing corruption and promoting integrity in central governments (top executive functions) and law enforcement agencies. Evaluation report Finland, 2018, https://rm.coe.int/fifth-evaluation-round-preventing-corruption-and-promoting-integrity-i/1680796d12
[43] Transparency International Finland, https://korruptiontorjunta.fi/en/lobbying
[44] Transparency International Latvia, Open Knowledge Finland (2018), Open data and the fight against corruption in Latvia, Sweden and Finland: FINLAND, https://delna.lv/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/OD4AC_FI_Final6.pdf
[45] Interview with Niklas Wilhelmsson, Ministry of Justice, 20 April 2020.
[46] Interview with Salla Nazarenko, Transparency International Finland, 27 April 2020; email from Natalia Ollus, European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control (HEUNI), 5 May 2020.
[47] Transparency International Finland, https://korruptiontorjunta.fi/en/lobbying
[48] Interview with Salla Nazarenko, Transparency International Finland, 27 April 2020.
[51] Interview with Niklas Wilhelmsson, Ministry of Justice.
[52] Interview with Niklas Wilhelmsson, Ministry of Justice.
[53] The projects and legislation portal, https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/projects-and-legislation
[54] As of April 2020, based on the interview with Niklas Wilhelmsson, Ministry of Justice.
[55] Interview with Salla Nazarenko, Transparency International Finland, 27 April 2020.
[56] Email from Natalia Ollus, European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control (HEUNI), 5 May 2020.

Commitments

Open Government Partnership