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Education boss approved 300k euro grant to his own university

An Yle investigation found that auditors found discrepancies and breaches of official rules by senior officials at 43 of Finland's 60 government agencies. The Head of the National Board of Education granted some 300,000 euros to a higher education institution while serving on its board, while the head of the Environment Institute approved two new posts for a university where she was a board member.

Image: Timo Kallio / Yle Uutisgrafiikka

The head of the National Board of Education, Aulis Pitkälä, granted some 300,000 euros in state support to Metropolia University of Applied Sciences while he also served on the Metropolia board.

Yle found two instances of senior officials at state agencies failing to recuse themselves from decision-making when there was a conflict of interest after examining reports published by the National Audit Office.

Travel and hospitality expenses were an area of concern for auditors, with some officials also making decisions when they should have recused themselves because of a conflict of interest. The original report was published in May, and the Audit Office press release was titled "Senior state officials follow good administrative practice".

Mistake regret

Yle dug deeper into the report and found four instances of Pitkälä granting money to Metropolia when he should — according to auditors — have recused himself due to his links with the institution. The audit office found three of those decisions in 2014 and 2015, while Yle dug up an additional case from 2013.

"He has accepted the decision summary, on the basis of which the individual awards of financial support were made," said Jaakko Eskola of the Audit Office.

"He acted formally when [he should have been] disqualified as he made those decisions, that's very clear," said Eskola.

Pitkälä says himself that he regrets the failure to stand aside.

"I discussed it with the proposer, and his opinion was that I wasn't disqualified," said Pitkälä. "I'm not blaming anybody for this. I should make these judgements myself. I regret that the mistake happened."

Professor appointments

Another case uncovered by auditors involved a decision made in 2014 by the head of the Environment Institute, Lea Kauppi, to employ two professors who would work for both the institute and Oulu University — on whose board Kauppi sat.

She admits that she should not have made those decisions, but says that the government's policy of greater co-operation between state agencies and higher education institutions influenced her actions. She did not declare her position with Oulu University in the declaration of interests. Pitkälä, on the other hand, did declare his role with Metropolia.

Pitkälä resigned from the Metropolia board when the audit office report was published, in line with its recommendations.

The office investigated 60 agencies' operations between 1.1.2014 and 31.7.2015 to look at how senior officials in the agencies were complying with rules on ethics and conflicts of interest. Yle found eight senior officials who had failed to declare conflicts of interest, including an assistant director at the border guard whose declaration was shredded after he was appointed.

Declarations should be kept on file and updated as necessary.

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