In a new report evaluators from the Council of Europe said there are possible hidden risks inherent in the Finnish government’s planned reforms of the country's social and health care system, colloquially known as sote.
Authors of the report by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (Greco) said it aimed to examine Finland’s ability to prevent corruption. The report stated the reform plans pose a few potential risks like conflicts of interest in dealings between the public and private sectors.
While Greco continues to hold Finland to a high standard as Europe’s least corrupt country, it warned not to underestimate the risks of corruption within the country.
The body identified significant risks in a potential revolving door policy linked to a blurring of the lines betweeen the public and private sectors. In the case of the sote reform, the risks of corruption will increase as officials and politicians responsible for implementing the reform revolve between ministerial posts and lobbying firm jobs. Criminal law experts have also voiced similar concerns over the matter.
"Finland traditionally scores high in perception surveys on the fight against corruption and [the] risks of actual bribery are considered to be low or non-existent. However, recent scandals in public life, including a major corruption scheme in the Helsinki Police, have put into question whether what has been considered the most prominent instrument of Finland to combat corruption, i.e. trust, is in itself alone a sufficiently preventive anti-corruption tool," Greco wrote in a statement on the report.
Calls to beef up protection of whistleblowers
Evaluators also urged officials and members of the police to seek training in areas such as vigilance and confidentiality. In its recommendation, the agency proposed that Finland adopt and implement an improved anti-corruption programme as soon as possible.
The programme to which the group referred is a newly-proposed anti-corruption strategy on the government’s table which it said would increase transparency and update current legislation on bribery.
According to Greco, Finland's anti-corruption efforts should be enhanced by taking a closer look at declarations of private interests, especially given the privatisation process involved in the social and health care reform programme. Greco said that Finnish police and border guards should receive training and more detailed standards on issues such as supplementary work.
In addition, Greco said that Finnish police should to step up protection of whistleblowers.
"The Border Guard could also take the opportunity to engage in an inclusive dialogue within its ranks regarding its integrity policy and the way forward. Finland needs yet to develop an overarching protection system for whistleblowers, an issue that is decisively important for law enforcement," Greco stated.