Privacy or transparency? The dilemma of state grants to political youth organisations
The suggestion that the youth organisations of political parties are exaggerating their membership figures in order to get more state subsidies is pitting requirements for financial transparency against the right to privacy.
The Ministry of Education asked the party youth organisations for a clarification of membership information after the former secretary-general of the Social Democratic Party’s youth organisation said in Friday’s Helsingin Sanomat that it was common practice to overstate the number of members that such organisations have.
Minister of Culture Paavo Arhinmäki (Left Alliance) plans to re-examine whether or not it is possible to demand that youth and student organisations of Finland’s political parties can be required to submit their membership lists for inspection by the ministry as a condition for state subsidies.
Arhinmäki said on a television interview programme on Saturday that he has been studying the law on protection of private information.
Now he says that membership in a political organisation is very confidential information, and he wants to find out if there is any other way to validate the membership figures of organisations receiving state aid.
The law on state subsidies states unequivocally that officials granting the subsidies have the right to make necessary inspections concerning the payment of subsidies and on how the money is used.
Youth organisations receiving state grants are legally required to give officials conducting inspections all of the necessary information, reports, and documents that an inspection requires.
Pekka Viljanen, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Turku says that misstating membership numbers to get more state aid could well constitute fraud, and he would like to see the matter investigated. Ilkka Koskimäki, the head of the economic crimes unit of the Helsinki Police, says that his unit is not initiating any investigations in the matter. “I feel that it is the job for the National Audit Office.”
Party youth organisations have been reluctant to provide the information requested by the ministry.
Antti Häkkänen, chairman of the youth group of the National Coalition Party, said that the organisation plans to ask legal experts if it can be forced to submit the membership information.
The Centre Party’s youth organisation also plans to clarify the matter with officials.
“We are following the situation and looking at what kind of s view the ministry takes”, says Miikka Lönnqvist, Secretary-General of the Social Democratic youth.
Legal experts contacted by Helsingin Sanomat did not want to voice an opinion on Saturday on whether or not the youth organisations can invoke confidentiality as a reason to refuse to supply authorities with membership information.
On Saturday Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen (Nat. Coalition Party) said that he would like to see the regulations concerning support for youth organisations reassessed.
Katainen feels that it would be simplest if the organisations were to get their funding in connection with the state support given to political parties, in which the amount paid out depends on how many MPs a party has in Parliament.
The National Coalition Party has long been in favour of a model with such a Parliamentary basis.
Katainen feels that it is a matter for concern if the registry of youth organisations has fictitious members, and if they have affected the monetary support paid out of taxpayers’ money.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Financial surplus of National Coalition Party youth organisation raises questions (10.5.2012)
Former SDP youth leader says party youth groups overstate membership (11.5.2012)