The heads of the four ruling parties in Finland, Riikka Purra of the Finns Party, Petteri Orpo of the National Coalition, Anna-Maja Henriksson of the Swedish People’s Party and Sari Essayah of the Christian Democrats, discussed the central government budget for next year at a news conference in Helsinki on 19 September 2023. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)

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THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) appears to have sidestepped the principles of good lawmaking as it scrambles to put together the budgetary decisions associated with its social security cuts, reports YLE.

YLE on Sunday wrote that Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti has observed repeatedly in the autumn that the government has failed to sufficiently assess the impact of individual spending cuts and the cuts as a whole.

Its proposal to slash the housing allowance, for example, makes no reference to the possible increase in the number of people requiring income assistance, the last-resort form of financial assistance in Finland. The realisation of human rights for housing allowance recipients and their families overall has also been barely assessed, according to Pöysti.

He has also estimated that the government failed to fully explore alternatives to the proposed suspension of cost-of-living-based increases in certain benefits, such as student financial aid. This would have been important especially from the viewpoint of growing poverty among families with children, a viewpoint that is recognised in the draft proposal.

Pöysti on Tuesday also drew attention to the tight timetables for expert hearings, which have been as short as five days.

The government programme states that the government will promote high-quality and knowledge-based impact assessments in conjunction with the drafting of legislative and regulatory measures.

Anssi Keinänen, a professor of legislative and empirical legal studies at the University of Eastern Finland, on Sunday told YLE that the lawmaking efforts of the government have not been of high quality.

“This is a clear example of everything not going as it should,” he said.

Impact assessments, he underlined, are a key measure of high-quality lawmaking: they ensure that when lawmakers enact laws, they do so based on knowledge – understanding what they are deciding on.

Also the constitutional right of parliament to receive information is not realised, according to Keinänen.

“On the other hand, it’s a question of the opportunities of advocacy groups and citizens to monitor political decision-making. In the current situation, those opportunities are insufficient,” he commented to the public broadcasting company.

The government is likely rushing the proposals because any bills entering into force at the beginning of next year will have to be submitted to parliament by 9 October.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has promised to produce a report assessing the overall impacts of the cuts in social security spending.

Neither Pöysti nor Keinänen thinks this suffices to resolve the issues. The chancellor of justice highlighted that the impact assessments should be available for the drafting of legislative proposals and the ensuing public debate.

“[The report] is inevitably coming too late if you consider that parliamentary committees should be able to simultaneously discuss individual proposals and assess the overall impacts,” viewed Keinänen. “It can’t be that the parliament doesn’t put together the overall impacts until the committee phase. It isn’t the parliament’s duty. The overall assessment must come from the government.”

He also reminded that all shortcomings identified during the public comment period should be rectified before a proposal is presented to a parliamentary committee.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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