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Wednesday's papers: Tillerson dismissal, neutrality of courts, lost arms deal, unisex barracks

The morning newspapers today carry items ranging from reaction to the dismissal of the U.S. Secretary of State to the question of joint barracks for male and female soldiers.

Uudet alokkaat saapuvat Santahaminan varuskuntaan Helsingissä.
New conscripts arriving at the Santahamina military base in Helsinki in January. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

Jyväskylä's Keskisuomalainen is among the papers that carries an STT agency report of reaction to the sacking of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In an interview with the agency, Mika Aaltola, the programme director of the global security research programme of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs said that Tillerson's dismissal came as no big surprise.

"Trump likes it that people are on their toes about when they may fall into disfavour. He has different cliques in the White House competing against each other," said Aaltola.

Aaltola attributed Tillerson's departure in part to differences over issues such as North Korea, and most recently backing for the British government's assessment of Russia.

He added that he sees Mike Pompeo, who has been named to take over as Secretary of State, as a more loyal Trump supporter. He, as well, has different views from those of Trump, but these are not as evident as Tillerson's have been.

"The new Secretary of State is one of the so-called 'grown-ups' who has long-time experience in security related issues," Aaltola told STT.

Judicial transparency

The law says that detachment is the basis of good governance. Judges in the legal system are not allowed to take part in any legal proceedings in which there may be a conflict of interest, for example because of contacts or commitments outside their professional roles.

Judges and other officers of the court are required to make declarations of outside interests to a public registry.

Turun Sanomat today published an in-depth syndicated article by the Lännen Media group saying that some judges have been lax in observing this law and there are technical problems with the system.

Reviewing the records of around 900 judges and court lawyers, journalists found, for example, that information concerning nearly 70 percent of the judges and special officers of the Supreme Administrative Court are out of date. For the Supreme Court, information is missing for close to one-fifth.

The review also discovered other problems with the registry. There is significant variation in the detail concerning the outside interests of individual judges, and in some cases the information is simply missing.

In a response to an inquiry on the issue, the Justice Ministry stated that the registry is based on trust, saying that it is impossible to check all of the contacts and interests that public officials have.

The most typical declarations of private interests for judges concern teaching and lecturing jobs as well as legal consultation in the public sector. Other common ties are to private businesses and housing associations.

Patria loses bid

The daily Helsingin Sanomat expands on an Yle report that Finnish arms manufacture Patria has lost an intensive three-year bid process to build more than 200 combat reconnaissance vehicles for the Australian defense forces.

Patria was in the final run-off in the multi-billion euro contract, competing against the UK's BAE Systems and German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall, which clinched the deal.

The Finnish company has been in the media spotlight in recent weeks, after an independent contractor promoting its products was murdered in Uganda, and two of its top executives left the company.

Unisex barracks

The Finnish Conscripts' Union Varusmiesliitto is proposing that the military should try out the kind of mixed housing for male and female soldiers that is already common in the other Nordic countries.

Union chairman Jaakko Kivistö, told the Oulu-based newspaper Kaleva that Norway has had positive experiences with unisex barracks, and suggested that the idea could be piloted in Finland for soldiers training as reserve officers.

According to Kivistö, information within units doesn't get passed on in the most efficient manner when men and women are living in separate facilities.

"Joint barracks would improve the flow of information and get women better integrated into the units," he argues.

He did point out to the paper, though, that bunking men and women in the same barracks should require the agreement of all involved.

"If just one [person] objects, then it should be not be implemented," Kivistö added.

Unisex accommodations in the Finnish military are not an entirely novel idea. Men and women sleep in the same tents while on field exercises.

A recent survey on gender equality carried out in the Defense Forces found that one-third of female soldiers and just less than one-third of male soldiers objected to the idea of joint barracks.

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