Finland needs an urgent overhaul of its security of supply, according to a report commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment that is published a year after the issue was thrust into the spotlight by problems sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid crisis.
Security of supply refers to a country's ability to prepare for and manage potential crises.
The report stated that the National Emergency Supply Agency (NESA), which is responsible for the maintenance and development of Finland’s security of supply, does not seem to have very clear or consistent cooperation with various government ministries.
The report also highlighted ambiguities in how the roles and responsibilities defined by law for those responsible for Finland's security of supply, such as ministries and NESA, are implemented in practice.
According to the authors of the report, "the ministry officials interviewed did not have a clear picture of NESA's general mandate or the importance of the security of supply within the overall context of their own ministry".
NESA's control and management of Finland's security of supply was also criticised, with calls for the agency CEO's powers and responsibilities to be clarified. The report noted that while the agency's board should be very strong, it has in fact remained weak. At the same time, the CEO has gained significant financial authority.
"There have been strong CEOs at NESA who have exercised their independent decision-making and discretion with reasonable vigour within the framework allowed by law," the report stated.
Report "not a statement" on handling of Covid crisis
The report further noted a lack of transparency in the use of Finland's National Emergency Supply Fund.
"The multi-annual financing of programme activities through the fund by decisions of the NESA Board does not comply with the spirit of the State Budget Act and the principle of budget transparency," the report said.
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the report is an assessment by an independent external expert group on NESA operations and the nation's security of supply. The introduction to the report emphasised that this is not a statement on the agency's performance during the coronavirus crisis, but the assessment is part of a wider context in which the ministry evaluates agencies and institutions more broadly.
NESA was heavily criticised last spring for spending ten million euros of public money on protective equipment that either was not delivered or not fit for use, leading to the resignation of the then-CEO Tomi Lounema. Subsequent reports revealed that the agency was aware of a supplier's tax debts when it handed over 4.9 million euros for defective equipment.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) announced last month that the investigation into the purchase of the faulty masks was being forwarded to prosecutors, and that three NESA employees are suspected of official abuse of trust.