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Friday’s papers: Bumpy ride for minister’s road reform proposal – and it’s Trump time

Friday’s dailies offer extensive coverage of Transport Minister Anne Berner’s initial proposal for the de facto privatisation of the nation’s road network. Not to be forgotten is US President-elect Donald Trump, who will grab the spotlight worldwide as he is sworn into office.

Liikenne- ja viestintäministeri Anne Berner tiedotustilaisuudessa Helsingissä.
Transport and Communications Minister Anne Berner at a press conference Thursday, where she unveiled her road usage reform proposal. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

On Friday all roads lead to Transport Minister Anne Berner and her proposal to reform the road network in Finland. Berner found herself in for a bit of a rough ride after rolling out the plan Thursday morning.

Based in southwest Finland, broadsheet Turun Sanomat stepped back from the immediate proposal to introduce a "road usage as a service" approach. TS reviewed similar models in Italy and Poland, where the owners of privatised roads reportedly earn profits of up to 40 percent.

The daily backed up to look at previous adventures into privatisation of network services in Finland. In one case, the government offloaded the broadcast network previously owned by public broadcaster Yle to the private company Digita. In another, the electricity distribution network that was once in the hands of state-owned energy company Fortum, was sold to the private company Caruna.

According to TS, the move to hand over ownership of public monopolies to private investors effectively guaranteed the new owners a steady stream of profits. However the devil is always in the details and the deals did not anticipate that the new private providers would be owned by Luxembourg-registered holding companies. TS claims that both resort to the perfectly legal practice of booking high-interest inter-group loans that result in financial losses on the balance sheet, but which ensure the companies avoid paying taxes in Finland.

In spite of the evidence that a similar risk exists with the proposal on the table, the paper writes, Berner has repeatedly stressed that divesting the road network from state ownership will not mean privatisation.

Taxi drivers cold-shoulder plan to help police new system

Meanwhile tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat uncovers a little-known aspect of Berner’s proposal which answers the question of how to oversee the proposed system by which motorists will have to pay to use major roadways. According to the plan, in addition to existing supervisory agencies, private transportation firms such as taxis and delivery companies could provide additional eyes and ears to enforce the pay-as-you-go system.

IS reports that in Helsinki at least, taxi drivers did not warm to the minister’s suggestion when it was put to them.

"That certainly isn’t my job, nor would I do it. I have my own job to take care of and it involves taking customers from point A to point B. And that’s enough," remarked taxi driver Rolle Nyman.

Govt parties not on the same map

Helsinki-based largest-circulation paper Helsingin Sanomat other dailies in covering the discord the proposal appears to have generated in Juha Sipilä’s coalition government. Finance Minister and National Coalition Party chair Petteri Orpo noted Thursday that Berner’s proposal provided no answers about how to eliminate repair debt and ensure future investments. He said that Berner had presented just one option and should provide other alternatives that would address the outstanding issues.

Finns Party deputy chair and Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö took to his blog Thursday afternoon to also distance his party from the proposal. He reminded his readers that the government "had not yet agreed, let alone decided on anything."

"We do not support policing. The proposed change in the structure of transport taxes would cause the value of used cars to collapse and would dry up sales. [Owners] who have already paid the vehicle tax would end up paying again as a road usage payment," Niinistö wrote.

Questions over Centre's pothole photo

Coming off the presses in Tampere, daily Aamulehti reports on an image of a road pockmarked with potholes, apparently used by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Centre Party on Twitter to drum up support for its road usage reform programme.

"Time to stop the deterioration of our roads. Now is the time for solutions. Centre," read the text overlaying the photo.

However checks revealed that the image did not come from Finland, but was a royalty-free image purchased from Shutterstock image bank. The photograph was apparently taken in Russia by photographer Evgenia Freeman. AL did not indicate whether or not it reached party representatives for comment.

Trump backer: Only 'Islam' spoken in Finland

Trump saapumassa virkaanastujaisiinsa.
Image: Chris Kleponis / EPA
Washington occupies centre stage worldwide on Friday and so does its President-elect Donald Trump, as he takes the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States.

Finnish newspapers join their peers across the world in their coverage of the culmination of last year’s occasionally nerve-wracking presidential campaign – and their anticipation of what global geo-politics will look and sound like under a Trump administration.

HS correspondent Laura Saarikoski met up with some of the new president’s supporters, one of whom had some interesting views about Finland. Saarikoski spoke with Vincent Lehotsky, who traveled from South Carolina to Washington to attend the main inauguration concert on Thursday.

"You in Finland only speak Islam [sic]," Lehotsky told HS’ woman in Washington.

"I’ve heard that Finland is full of Muslims speaking Islam," he claimed when pressed. He said that he had waited 30 years for Trump to run for president. "He will create so many jobs that we will all be rich," the avid supporter declared.

According to the correspondent, Trump appeared briefly before the jubilant crowd to say, among other things, that "the forgotten men and women are no longer forgotten."

She added that while many had traveled from far and wide to attend the preliminary celebrations ahead of the formal inauguration, the crowd paled beside the turnout for outgoing President Barack Obama’s second inauguration concert in 2009.

EDIT This story has been edited to remove a reference to 'privatisation' of the road network. Although the proposed reform involves greater private sector involvement, the ministry disputes that the reform itself is privatisation.

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