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What’s Next for Open Government in the Nordics

Siguientes Pasos para el Gobierno Abierto en los Países Nórdicos

Tinatin Ninua|

This is the first piece in a series of blogs authored by OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), taking a deeper look at open government reforms at a subregional level. 

The four Nordic nations of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) with a high baseline of openness and transparency. These countries top the rankings on good governance, showing strong institutions, rule of law, and high levels of public trust. For example, they are among the top seven countries in the
Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, pointing to the strong control of corruption in the public sector. Which begs the question, how can these countries in the Nordic region still benefit from a global open government platform like OGP, which focuses on domestic reforms? 

As relatively rich countries, the Nordic nations are some of the major donors to developing countries struggling with endemic corruption. They are also home to international companies actively involved in global trade, carrying risks of corruption that expand beyond national borders. 

A recent media investigation dubbed as the Fishrot Files revealed that the Norwegian state-owned bank account was used by shell companies to launder proceeds of illegal fishing activities off the coasts of West Africa. In another example, Denmark has been caught up in the largest money laundering scandal in Europe, following whistleblower revelations against Danske Bank. Similarly, Swedish and Finnish companies have been involved in corruption scandals in countries like Uzbekistan, Slovenia and Croatia. 

These cases point to the necessity of domestic reforms, effective enforcement of anti-bribery rules and measures to clamp down on money laundering. In open government terms, this means clear rules for country by country reporting on aid and revenues paid, adequate whistleblower protection, and transparency of ultimate beneficial ownership of companies. 

OGP action plans of Nordic countries have touched upon some of these policy areas but to a little extent. Few notable commitments have focused on transparency of foreign aid to eliminate opportunities for corruption in development assistance. In that regard, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have all made strides to improve management of foreign aid. The Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) particularly has set a high standard by publishing comprehensive project based information on its development aid. According to the latest assessment by OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism, reporting to the agency on potential corruption cases has improved significantly.

In another development, Norway has strengthened rules for country by country reporting on revenues paid by its multinational companies. As of 2017, all Norwegian multinational enterprises with an annual income above 6.5 billion Norwegian Krones (US$730 million) are obliged to file country by country reports on revenues paid, expanding the coverage beyond the extractive sector.

Norway was also one of the first to commit to opening up information on ultimate beneficial owners of its companies, another frontier where this region has gained traction. As part of its third action plan, the Norwegian government tabled the bill to make beneficial ownership information accessible free of charge. The current Norwegian action plan takes up the IRM recommendation to make the register publicly accessible. 

And yet there is more the Nordic countries can do to up their anti-corruption and open government game. While all four countries have recently established beneficial ownership registers, Denmark is the only country in the region (and one of the few globally) that allows public access to it. The other countries need to follow suit and open up their registers for public scrutiny. As it has been done in the case of foreign aid, Nordic countries could champion best practice standards for disclosure of data on beneficial ownership. 

In light of the recent bank scandals, whistleblower protection needs to be taken seriously. Legal protections for those that blow the whistle are relatively new in the region, with Sweden being the first Scandinavian country to pass the standalone whistleblower protection act in 2016 and then Finland in 2018. While Norway has protections in place for both public and private sector employees, need for further improvements has been identified by the government commissioned report. As for Denmark, the recent IRM report has recommended to put in place the robust whistleblower protection legislation to encourage reporting on wrongdoings at all levels, including in the private sector.

OGP action plans, which are thoroughly monitored by the Independent Reporting Mechanism, could also flesh out and plan to deliver on the commitments made at the 18th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Copenhagen in 2018. These high level pledges echo many IRM recommendations and include actions that can take anti-corruption collaboration to a different level. 

Moving forward, Nordic countries can use the OGP platform to develop and put in place strong anti-corruption policies and do so in close collaboration with civil society and open government advocates. Such commitments could reinforce their leadership on the fight against corruption and can help pave the way for the next generation of open government reforms in the Nordic region.


*Photo credit: Blue Square Thing

Comments (2)

An avid reader Reply

Very informative article! Great job, Ms. Ninua!

A fan Reply

Strikingly in-depth analysis, wish Tinatin wrote in the blog more often.

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