THE NUMBER of Finnish decision-makers who hold political offices at several levels of governance has grown election after election since 1996, reports Libera, a politically unaffiliated think tank in Helsinki.
Such “superpoliticians” are a prominent feature especially in the newly established well-being services counties.
Libera highlighted in a report published last week that nearly 80 per cent of all candidates and 77 per cent of successful candidates in the county elections held at the start of the year had at least one other political mandate before the elections. Most Members of the Parliament, meanwhile, have a seat also on a municipal council (86%) and on a county council (54%).
“A triple mandate isn’t all that rare, as seven per cent of county councillors are politicians on three administrative levels,” Tero Lundstedt, a content manager at Libera, stated to Helsingin Sanomat.
Many European countries, the newspaper wrote, have taken action to restrict the possibilities of decision-makers to hog seats at several administrative levels in a bid to prevent conflicts of interest and situations that promote corruption. Such concerns are warranted with elected officials who serve on the board of a municipally owned listed company or a cooperative that is mulling over a major investment.
“In the Nordic context, the Finnish approach to dual mandates can be described as peculiar. Other Nordics have not prohibited dual mandates, but they are approached with caution,” reads the report by Libera.
Some of the true “superpoliticians” in Finland are Minister of Education Li Andersson (LA) and Minister of Finance Annika Saarikko (Centre), according to Helsingin Sanomat. Both Andersson and Saarikko not only lead their respective parties and hold a ministerial portfolio, but also perform the duties of a municipal councillor, county councillor and the Member of the Parliament.
Lundstedt told Helsingin Sanomat that he was surprised at the lack of discussion about the dangers and problems associated with the concentration of positions of power while the well-being services counties were being established.
Members of the Parliament who also serve on a county council might be responsible for, on the one hand, seeing to the sustainability of public finances and, on the other, pursuing funding for the county. Conflicts of interest might arise also for county councillors with an ownership stake in a company providing social and health care services to the county.
“It’s good to understand that there are problems in the concentration of power. If you work on behalf of one administrative level, you may simultaneously let down those who elected you to an office on another level,” said Lundstedt.
The task of attending all meetings alone requires exceptional scheduling skills, not to mention the time required to be sufficiently prepared to contribute to each one.
“Even if you look beyond the conflicts of interest, there are limits to how much time an individual has at their disposal. You simply can’t be in two places at the same time,” he highlighted.
Professional politicians often argue that participating in decision-making at different levels of governance helps them to accumulate beneficial knowledge. Lundstedt, however, viewed that the disadvantages of having numerous mandates easily outweigh the advantages.
“Voters could be asking what happened to my consumer protection,” he said to Helsingin Sanomat.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT