MEMBERS of the Parliament have expressed their surprise at recent reports about changes in the operational focus of the National Audit Office of Finland (VTV).
“We haven’t received any kind of written statement about a collapse in auditing operations, nor have we been able to read anything of the kind between the lines,” Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto (Greens), the chairperson of the Parliament’s Audit Committee, said to Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday.
Her statement was made in response to Pasi Tervasmäki, the chief auditor at VTV. Tervasmäki on Saturday stated to Iltalehti that concerns about the possible deterioration of auditing operations as a consequence of the shift in operational focus have been conveyed to the Parliament’s Audit Committee.
Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday wrote that information about the operational shift and its consequences should have trickled down to lawmakers through a number of channels, both formal and informal. Matti Okko, the director of one of four impact areas at VTV, told that VTV’s management has sat down with the secretaries of the committee roughly twice a year to inform them especially of upcoming publications.
“When the committee knows about them in advance, it can make decisions on which matters it should consider,” he explained to the newspaper.
“The main themes and main issues, meaning the most important audit-related observations in the annual report, have been brought up in this context. The goal has been to draw attention to the most important observations from the standpoint of the Parliament.”
The meetings have been attended by the directors of impact areas and, occasionally, also by the director general of VTV, Tytti Yli-Viikari.
VTV has found itself in the middle of a scandal kindled by reports of the extensive travel and personal care costs run up by Yli-Viikari. The National Bureau of Investigation (KRP), additionally, has opened a pre-trial investigation into an arrangement that saw an official employed by the office paid wage on the condition that they do not work.
The suspects in the inquiry are Yli-Viikari and Mikko Koiranen, the head of legal affairs at VTV. They have both denied the criminal allegations.
Iltalehti and Ilta-Sanomat have also written that the office is devoting less and less resources to its core responsibility: auditing and monitoring the use of central government funds. Iltalehti on Friday also wrote about a “systematic” effort to make the audits more pleasant for their subjects.
VTV operates under parliamentary supervision mediated by a so-called negotiating council and the Parliament’s Audit Committee. Eight of the 20 council members are Members of the Parliament.
The council has the statutory responsibility to, for example, monitor the focus, productivity and service capability of auditing operations from the viewpoint of various partner. It is also the primary channel for informing lawmakers of the auditing plans and annual statements of VTV.
Also the Parliament’s Audit Committee reviews the annual statements, meaning lawmakers serving on both bodies have been presented with the documents not once but twice.
It is the annual statement that points to the erosion of auditing and supervising activities at VTV. While the number of man-hours allocated to the activities stood at 48 in 2018, it had declined to 40 in 2020, indicates the statement released in February 2021.
The auditing plan, in turn, also lays down the financial and operational strategy of the office, according to Okko. The current, much-discussed strategy, he added, was set in motion effectively by Yli-Viikari.
Both the office and its director general operate fairly independently and have extensive powers to make decisions about the operations.
“This management and organisational reform was implemented quickly. I still don’t think that the audit committee or the negotiating council have been left in the dark about the changes in management and organisational model,” Okko told Helsingin Sanomat.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT