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Finance Minister flubs figures on investment regulation, opposition questions his credibility

Earlier this week on the floor of Parliament, Minister of Finance Alexander Stubb claimed that 90 percent of the civil servant experts consulted supported the coalition government’s plans to open up Finland’s securities custody to competition. In reality, the daily Helsingin Sanomat found that of the 21 officials asked to weigh in on the issue, 10 opposed it, nine refused to take a stand and two supported it – leaving the actual support percentage at less than 10 percent.

Alexander Stubb
Finance Minister Alexander Stubb during a session of Parliament on November 24. Image: Jarno Mela / lehtikuva

Finland’s leading opposition parties are upset about Finance Minister Alexander Stubb’s misleading comment this week during parliamentary debate of a government plan to change Finland’s policy requiring direct holding of investments. Stubb admitted in a TV1 television appearance early Saturday morning that he had stated the wrong figures and that he was “sorry about that.”

He claimed that 90 percent of civil servants consulted showed support for the government's proposed plan, although investigation from the country's leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat discovered that only 2 of 21 experts asked to give their opinion supported the idea.

Stubb = Jäätteenmäki?

On Twitter, Greens Party Chair Ville Niinistö compared Stubb’s position now to that of Anneli Jäätteenmäki, Finland’s first female prime minister. In 2003, Jäätteenmäki resigned after just three months in office for allegedly lying to Parliament and the public about how she had acquired confidential Foreign Ministry documents. In 2004, the Helsinki District Court acquitted Jäätteenmäki on all counts, but Green’s Chair Niinistö said Stubb’s position is now similarly at stake.

Left Alliance Chair Paavo Arhinmäki wrote on his Facebook account that Stubb’s position as a reliable minister should be put to a confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.

Social Democratic Party Chair Antti Rinne for his part said that Stubb’s manner of behaving was “very odd”. Rinne said he imagines that the incident may even require an official investigation in Parliament. He would not take a position on whether Stubb had made an honest mistake or whether his intent was to wilfully mislead the MPs that were present.

A push to add indirect holding

The government wants to open up Finland’s investment policy to allow indirect securities holdings. Current legislation limits investment activity to direct holdings, meaning investments are recorded under the investor’s name in the interests of transparency. By expanding the law to include indirect holding as well, securities could be held under a bank or investment firm’s name, in effect making it possible to hide the investor’s identity.

The government claims a new EU regulation obligates Finland to open up its securities custody rules to competition. It claims the reform will link Finland even more effectively to the European capital markets and encourage related actors to stay in Finland. The ministry website states the reform will not affect the authorities’ access to information when the custodies are in Finland.

In his Facebook status Saturday, Arhinmäki said the preparation of the government plan to change investment regulations has been “shrouded in mystery from the beginning: feedback from the comment rounds have not been made public, certain reporters have been banned from press conferences and today’s Aamulehti paper exposed a memo that shows the government has been consciously selecting reporters who share their perspective”.

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