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PM Marin "deeply frustrated" with Helsinki authorities, coalition partners

The Prime Minister criticised slow decision-making by regional authorities and within her own government.

Revinnäisiä Martti Hetemäen ja Sanna Marinin välisistä sähköpostiviesteistä.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin and former ministerial state secretary Martti Hetemäki had an email discussion on the management of the coronavirus crisis in October. Image: Yle, kuvankäsittely: Ilkka Kemppinen / Yle

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) criticised Helsinki Metropolitan Area authorities as well as her own government coalition partners for their response to the coronavirus crisis in emails to a former ministerial state secretary sent in October.

Yle has seen the chain of correspondence between the PM and Martti Hetemäki, a former Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Finance who resigned from his position at the end of September.

"I am deeply frustrated that the seriousness of the situation is not widely understood," Marin wrote on 20 October. "Even within the government, it is difficult to get the required level of action through the various parties due to hesitation."

Hetemäki, who led a working group that drafted the government’s coronavirus strategy in the spring, had written to the Prime Minister on at least two separate occasions in October to express his concern about another coronavirus wave and the strict measures that would be required to tackle it.

He added that he feared the number of coronavirus infections may explode in Finland, as it did in Belgium and the Netherlands in October.

"I share your concern about the situation and recognise the challenges you are describing," Marin wrote in response. "I have asked for clarification on legal aspects concerning the introduction of the Emergency Powers Act. The legal and political threshold for the introduction of the law is high. As it should be, of course."

Marin also expressed her frustration that regional authorities, and especially in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, were not doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus.

"The regions have the tools needed to take proactive and rapid action, but lack the courage. I am particularly concerned about the modesty of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area's activities," she wrote.

Need for proactive measures

After leaving his position at the Ministry of Finance, Hetemäki became a professor at Helsinki Graduate School of Economics, where he has continued to study factors that contributed to the coronavirus spread alongside colleagues Professor Bengt Holmström and Juhana Hukkinen, an adviser to the Bank of Finland.

In a second email to Marin, Hetemäki said the group found evidence that the results from taking certain action are not immediate, and can only be seen after a number of weeks. This underlined the importance of proactive measures, Hetemäki wrote, and he recommended the government introduce a mask mandate as well as a restriction on movement in order to control the spread.

Story continues after photo.

Martti Hetemäki
Former state secretary at the Ministry of Finance Martti Hetemäki. Image: Susanne Salin / Yle

"The continued increase in infections is likely to be inevitable, but I think it is entirely possible to slow it down effectively. In practice, this could mean, for example, a ruling on the use of masks and, above all, decisions aimed at reducing contacts. The latter could mean restricting movement (e.g. non-essential commuting) and banning indoor gatherings," Hetemäki suggested.

Marin responded that the big challenge for her leadership was that the government’s ability to act is based on necessity, not foresight.

"I see that proactive, rapid and strong action is now needed to curb the epidemic. However, Finland's legal framework and our ability to act are based on the necessity of action, not on anticipation. This is a big challenge from a leadership perspective," the PM wrote.

As Marin mentioned in the correspondence, the government has sought advice from the Ministry of Justice and the Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti on the use of the Emergency Powers Act, and also whether exceptional measures can be taken even if the act would not be used.

"In itself, in a serious pandemic, this can be done, and yes the situation is going in a serious direction in Finland," Pöysti told Yle last Monday.

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