Lobbyists are here to stay (secretly)

This article was published 6 months ago in FinnishNews/Nordic Week. It shows that talk is easy and actions next to impossible. Politicians from all the parties, including those in opposition have been discussing why lobby groups are involved in political decision-making. All parties see obvious conflicts of interest, except when their own lobby friends are involved.

The most scary lobbyists represent the banks and big companies here in Finland and they are all grouped together in the powerful Confederation of Finnish Industries (called EK). They basically fund and control the political macinations of the Conservative Party. Nothing gets done without EK’s blessing – we have an economy dominated by oligopolistic practices that bring in huge profits in banking in retail, in construction and in many other important sectors. So it is little wonder that lobbyists are well entrenched and will continue to be…

Private: No Lobbyist Registers yet in Nordic countries 

None of the Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have set up lobbyist registers, which is rather surprising given that all 4 countries like to bask in the light of having transparent government and the lowest levels of corruption.

One wonders whether the absence of lobbyist registers is evidence that lobbyists and their targets prefer to hide their meetings, or are we to believe that we do not need lobbyist registers because we are so clean and honest?

… seeing that Finland is full of big oligopolistic companies in retail, banking, insurance, pensions, forestry, media, dairy, construction, healthcare, etc., there is plenty to be concerned about, especially when we know that the big political parties have strong connections to a number of  these companies…

A new report ordered by the Finnish government from the University of Eastern Finland throws some light on this topic. The report takes a look at lobbyist registers in the UK, Ireland, Austria and the USA as well as the OECD recommendations.

Ms. Emilia Korkea-aho, the lead writer of the report, recommended that Finland should consider implementing the Irish solution which is described in detail in the report.

The Irish have done a great job of having a comprehensive legal framework that is overseen by a new public entity called Standards in Public Office Commission (SOPIC). They have sufficient funding and an excellent web site where both lobbyists and their contacts are all correctly registered and each meeting is registered correctly for the general public to review.

They have taken a very broad brush to Bothe defining the people who are the targets of the lobbyists – people in senior positions in the public sector and the lobbyists are also defined and include the obvious types but also trade unions and others who represent special interests and get paid for these services.

The website is really easy to use and full of information that is informative with names, dates, where, what was discussed, as you can see in the screen shot of one meeting from their site https://www.lobbying.ie/help-resources/

It appears that only Norway is thinking seriously about setting up a lobbyist site and the coming elections in April 2019 mean that it will probably be on the next government’s agenda here in Finland.

The report is only in Finnish (at this link) but with a brief English summary that can be found here below:

“This report examines the lobbying registers of the EU, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Austria, and the US from three different – yet interrelated – perspectives: 1) how they comply with international recommendations, 2) the role of public authorities, and 3) their advantages and disadvantages. All the countries (the United Kingdom only partially) have followed the recommendations of the OECD and the Council of Europe in setting up or modifying the lobbying register. According to the report, public authorities are responsible for the management of the register system in all countries. The competences and resources of the designated public official vary from country to country. Both advantages and disadvantages relate to the information contained in the register. One of the key benefits of the register is increased transparency about how decisions are made and implemented. Different and dissimilar registers all enhance transparency and accountability through increased information, although the scope of the UK lobbying register is so limited that it is debatable whether it can increase information about lobbying activities in any meaningful sense. A shared concern across the different systems relates to the quality and accuracy of the information in the registers.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to lobbying regulation. The lobbying register must always be tailored to fit the socio-political context in which it is supposed to operate and regulate the activities of lobbyists. Transparency and citizen participation must be fostered in many ways of which the lobbying register is but one, albeit one of the most important.”

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