Towards transparent decision-making

The Nordic countries — Finland included — have been seen as champions of openness in the European Union. But how transparent is their own decision-making system? The Finnish regional daily Aamulehti (23 April 2001) comments on the recommendations of the government's working group which has made all the right noises, promising openness, transparency, dialogue and speed.

In a leading article, Aamulehti points out that the working group could hardly have come up with anything less, since a law was passed in 1999 to reform the information culture. The law requires that civil servants must be active producers and distributors of information.

"Thus it is not enough that a citizen has the right to obtain a copy of a public document. Information has become the authorities' responsibility, written in law. People can no longer be sent back and forth from one authority to another.

"When the task of information is defined as something which promotes democracy, it follows that its aim cannot be to make an authority look good or to bolster the government's popularity. A noble principle.

"Information has to be given as early as possible and web information must be developed in a way that encourages dialogue and citizens' debate."

Aamulehti points out that improving information requires money and staff.

"The annual cost to implement the proposals would be about 40 million marks. Eventually about 50 new jobs should be created in the state sector. The bulk of these would have to do with internet information and improving information in Swedish. The increase in jobs would be around 10 per cent.

"More difficult than investing money, is changing the information culture in practice. All cultural changes are slow and difficult to create by commands. Personal characteristics, too, have a great influence on attitudes.

"That's quite a challenge for civil servants and politicians."

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