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Committee chair calls for answers over auditor general's expenses

Media reports on Friday suggest there was a 'culture of fear' at the National Audit Office of Finland.

Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto
Green Party MP Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto has chaired Parliament's Audit Committee for two years. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Green Party MP and chair of Parliament's Audit Committee Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto has called on Auditor General Tytti Yli-Viikari to make a public statement on the expenses scandal engulfing the National Audit Office of Finland (VTV).

Yli-Viikari faces a threat of suspension from her role following media reports that she spent thousands of euros of taxpayers money on beauty services and travel.

The deep distrust of the audit office's management is impacting VTV's staff, Alanko-Kahiluoto said.

"It is therefore not just a matter of Yli-Viikari, but of the entire staff. If the questions are not answered, the suspicion will only grow," Alanko-Kahiluoto stated, adding that she finds it difficult to understand why Yli-Viikari does not want to answer, for example, questions that have arisen about her use of flight points.

"If she has not used the flight points, why does she not make her points account balance public? She could easily do it right away, and the doubts would be dispelled. VTV is a key Finnish audit authority, and we should all be able to trust it," Alanko-Kahiluoto said.

Papers: Less auditing activity during Yli-Viikari's term

Tabloid newspapers Iltalehti and Ilta-Sanomat (external links in Finnish) both reported on Friday that the core activities of the Audit Office--examining how other government agencies use public money--have significantly decreased during Yli-Viikari's term as auditor general.

In response, Alanko-Kahiluoto said she has not had time yet to delve deeply into the reports.

"That finding has not come to light in the committee hearings, but it is something that may need to be examined separately," she said.

Iltalehti reporter Jarno Liski, who has reported on the case for weeks, wrote that VTV's reports have been censored and one member of staff was ordered to destroy an audit report.

"It is really serious if this has happened, and of course it needs to be addressed," Alanko-Kahiluoto said.

The Green Party MP has chaired the Audit Committee for two years, during which time the atmosphere at the National Audit Office has become a point of discussion.

"After consulting with staff representatives in the context of VTV's annual report, it became clear that the agency had a poor level of job satisfaction. Various measures have been taken to improve interaction and staff consultation, but clearly not enough," Alanko-Kahiluoto said.

Auditing the auditors

Parliament's Audit Committee is currently investigating VTV's internal control and risk management, as well as the principles of good governance within the agency. The report is expected to be completed this month.

At the same time, Parliamentary auditors will conduct an additional, separate audit of VTV's accounts.

According to Alanko-Kahiluoto, the committee's report will contain concrete proposals for improving VTV's internal processes.

"There must be someone who also controls the auditor general's use of money," she said.

VTV Director denies allegations

Iltalehti further reported that VTV's auditing activities have generally become more favourable to agencies being audited during Yli-Viikari's term as auditor general.

The agency's director, Mikko Koiranen, told news agency STT that this is not true.

"This is not the case," Koiranen said. "There have certainly been grounds for why the reports and their contents have been modified. After all, the question is how things are to be expressed and used, and what kind of adjectives, when taking a position on an issue. Whether the statements are based on information obtained during the auditing process, or on opinions. The people interviewed in Iltalehti's story have generalised their own experiences to apply to the entire agency's activities."

Several of Iltalehti's interviewees also stated that the agency had been run on a culture of fear for years, saying that those who question the directors' policies were punished with reduced salaries and additional workloads. Koiranen refused to comment on these accusations.

"There is no reason to start such a public discussion about leadership through fear," he said.

STT did not reach Yli-Viikari for comment, but Koiranen said that she was aware that he would comment on the matter to the news agency.

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