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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

  1. Improving Understandability and Inclusion of Government Information

    FI0030, 2019, Capacity Building

  2. Open Government Strategy

    FI0031, 2019, Capacity Building

  3. Register of Government Decision-Making

    FI0032, 2019, Anti-Corruption

  4. Open Data and AI Policy

    FI0033, 2019, Access to Information

  5. Supporting Everyone’s Possibility to Participate.

    FI0023, 2017, E-Government

  6. Clear Government Reforms and Services

    FI0024, 2017, Fiscal Openness

  7. Access to Information on Incorporated Public Services

    FI0025, 2017, Access to Information

  8. Access to Information Knowledge in the Public Administration

    FI0026, 2017, Access to Information

  9. Publishing State Procurement Data to Citizens

    FI0027, 2017, Access to Information

  10. Regional Reform Information

    FI0028, 2017, Infrastructure & Transport

  11. Training Regional Administration in Open Government Principles

    FI0029, 2017, Capacity Building

  12. Clear Administration

    FI0019, 2015, E-Government

  13. Government as an Enabler

    FI0020, 2015, Access to Information

  14. Open Procedures

    FI0021, 2015, Access to Information

  15. Engage Children, Youth, Elderly

    FI0022, 2015, Public Participation

  16. Enhancing the Openness of Preparatory Processes

    FI0001, 2013, E-Government

  17. Emphasizing Dialogue Skills in the Job Descriptions of Civil Servants

    FI0002, 2013, Capacity Building

  18. Strengthening Proactive Publishing and Communication

    FI0003, 2013, Capacity Building

  19. Promoting Participatory Budgeting

    FI0004, 2013, Fiscal Openness

  20. Increasing Openness and Customer Orientation in ICT and e-Services Development

    FI0005, 2013, E-Government

  21. Increasing the Number of Open and Online Meetings

    FI0006, 2013, E-Government

  22. Standard Language Titles and Resumes Will Be Drafted of the Government Proposals.

    FI0007, 2013, Capacity Building

  23. Visualization of Decisions

    FI0008, 2013, E-Government

  24. 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

  25. The Comprehensibility of the Texts Produced by Public Administration Will Be Tested To- Gether with Citizens and Service Users.

    FI0010, 2013, Capacity Building

  26. Standardizing and Clarifying the Terms and Concepts Used in Public Administration and Ser- Vice Production.

    FI0011, 2013, Capacity Building

  27. The Comprehensibility of Customer Letters and Decisions Will Be Enhanced, Especially When Using Standard Texts.

    FI0012, 2013, Capacity Building

  28. Opening and Publishing New Data and Changing Existing Open Data Into a Machine- Readable Form.

    FI0013, 2013, Access to Information

  29. Clear Terms for Use of for Open Data and Knowledge

    FI0014, 2013, Access to Information

  30. 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, Access to Information

  31. Tearing Down Barriers of Action of the Civil Society

    FI0016, 2013, Capacity Building

  32. The Proactive Presence and Accessibility of Civil Servants

    FI0017, 2013, Capacity Building

  33. Providing Tools and Training to Organizations

    FI0018, 2013, Capacity Building

Open Government Partnership