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Default Political corruption in Finland

September 19th, 2009, 10:01
Since I've been banging the drum about how well our political system works here, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the flip side. A political scandal that's dominated the headlines here for over a year now appears to be reaching what the French would call a denouement. Here's the story in brief.

About a year ago, a parliamentarian from the Center ("Agrarian") party, Timo Kalli, blurted in an interview that he hadn't properly declared his election finance sources, because, while mandatory, the law specifies no penalty for omitting the declaration. The press went wild, and corpses started to rise to the surface.

It turns out that a group of provincial businessmen, mostly involved in real estate, in particular building countryside mega-malls strategically positioned to siphon business from surrounding small towns, had formed an association and named it "Finland of Developing Provinces." The leading light in this association was a real estate development company called Nova Group. This association had then started funneling money to sympathetic politicians in order to get them elected. The Center Party got most of the loot, the National Coalition (our center-right Conservative party) got a lot, the Social Democrats got a few dribs and drabs, and the pesky Greens and lefty lefties got nothing at all.

The great crash of 2008 followed, and Nova Group went bankrupt.

In the bankruptcy proceedings, even more interesting things started to emerge. Among them, there was a certain snowmobile factory in Rovaniemi, sold to Nova Group by a national pension fund for a suspiciously reasonable amount of money. Turns out that the bosses of the pension fund were among the biggest recipients of Nova Group election finance. Then it turns out that Nova Group had been providing them not only with election money, but other boondoggles as well — an air ticket to Thailand here, a lavish birthday party there, that sort of thing… and, it also turned out, had their guys present at a few informal dinners thrown by top national politicians to thrash out the broad lines of government composition and policy after winning an election.

In other words, it looks like a handful of real-estate developers had managed to buy pretty much the entire governing elite. They certainly found it very easy to get permits and perhaps even a subsidy or two to build some pretty huge mall-type things — and this from politicians that publicly worry about the survival of just the kind of small business these malls are designed to squeeze out.

The denouement? As the drip-drip of information built into a trickle, then a stream, and now it looks like a flood, the politicians appear to have finally panicked. They've been admitting nothing and pointing fingers at everybody else until about last week. Suddenly they're all scrambling to throw the money they got from Nova back into its smoking ruins as if it had the swine flu on it.

I'm shocked and saddened by the whole thing. I don't have a particularly high opinion of the integrity of our politicians, but I did think we had better checks in place to stop that sort of thing from happening. I'm also shocked at how small the sums involved were — if we sold our apartment, the money would be enough to buy the entire Center Party, and one of the items getting the most press is an airplane ticket worth under 900 euros. If I was a corrupt politician and somebody tried to buy me, I'd be, like, "Seven figures, then we'll talk." IOW, it looks like our system is not only corruptible, but it's corruptible on the cheap.

The good thing is that the scandal has caused an uproar that will get campaign finance reformed here. The Greens and the left Lefties, who have been comparatively untouched by the scandal have moved in for the kill and proposed a pretty good new set of legislation for this; the parties who are actually in power are in such a corner that they can't afford not to pass it. IOW, while the system clearly failed in a pretty big way, it looks like there's a decent chance that it'll self-correct.

Unfortunately, most of the politicians involved are likely to see just a small bump in their careers. The trouble is that there's no challenge to them from within their parties, and Center and Conservative voters aren't going to rush en masse to vote Green just because of this. The bums would deserve to be looking for a new career in selling sausages or something, but that ain't gonna happen.

My faith in Finland's status as a low-corruption country has been shaken. This certainly doesn't put us in the same league as Italy, but we're clearly not the least corrupt country in the world we like to think we are. Thanks to this coming out, though, perhaps one day we can be.
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September 19th, 2009, 10:36
Interesting. Thanks for sharing.
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September 19th, 2009, 21:40
This sort of creeping corruption is happening even in countries which consider themself relatively corruption free. Think about MP's expenses scandal in UK. It was quite an eye opener for British public might not have high opinion of their MPs as politicians but, at least, considered them largely rot free. Power does corrupt, there is no doubt about that.
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September 20th, 2009, 14:33
This is very disturbing, and exactly the kind of cheap corruption I think we're susceptible to in Sweden as well. I think very very few politicians here would consciously take a big bribe in exchange for their vote, so instead there's campaign donations, small sums and goods instead of cash to make them more comfortable with what's going on.

Also, the act almost always involves following your ideology in some way while circumventing some rules or democratic processes, rather than actually going against your own beliefs.

This is the rationale for having high enough salaries for elected officials (if I'm not mistaken), but some will always want more I guess.
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September 21st, 2009, 16:31
Sweden takes pride in being the least corrupt country in the world…. I mean here a guy got prosecuted for sending a fruit basket ( value 25 euro ) to the secretary of the court, because he was happy about winning a case……. ( It is worth to notice that the secretary is the one to choose him as representative of the case, and he earned money by winning the case , so they reasoned he sent the fruit basket so she would choose him again…. but the sum and the way he did ( he sent it to her adress in the court ) it makes the thing a bit ridiculess to me )

I guess the reason sweden is so successfull on these things is just how open it is, I mean what every person earns every months is open for anyone to see, I can even see what the swedish prime minister earns, where he lives, and that sort of things… that makes it hard to be corrupt. On top of that the press is free, and it loves scanals so it check politicans like crazy, I mean they even found who didn't pay TV license or missed a tax payment…. and the swedish people went bersherk… bye bye minister…. bye bye.

On the other hand I am *100%* sure corruption also exist here, I even suspect certain politicans, but there is a fine line between what is acceptable. I mean if a company invite our minister of finance as a expert speaker, isn't it only reasonable that they pay his costs ???
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September 21st, 2009, 18:03
All that is probably true for Finland as well though and still they managed to get the political apparatuses of their governing parties "infiltrated"/corrupted.

And something we DON'T have is laws regulating the disclosure of political donations, of any size. Instead "everyone knows" that the Moderates get a lot of money from business and the Social Democrats get money, support and manpower from the labor unions. Not very transparent.
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