There is a wonderful passage in the book 'The Emperor' (1978) by Riszard Kapuscinski. The great Polish journalist describes the peculiar way in which the court of the Ethiopian emperor Haille Selassie reacted to the shock caused by the publication in the western press of reports about hundreds of thousands of starving people in the northern provinces of his country.
The book also explains how His Highness and the dignitaries around him saw nothing unusual in that people were starving to death. It had happened always, it was as natural and ordinary that nobody had ever thought to complain about it. Since that had always been the eternal order of things, how could the Emperor be bothered by such a small thing?
Finland has been for a few days in shock due to the news about the scandal of the free money -so far, more than 200 million euros- that Business Finland gave to large companies and consultants while the small restaurants and entrepreneurs suffer to keep their businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Much of that money has gone to companies that bill millions, often linked to people in politics or to the most prominent members of society.
Business Finland providers have been listed among the beneficiaries of those grants. And even the Prime Minister Sanna Marin has been affected by this scandal, since her husband's employer Markkinointi Akatemia benefited twice: with a direct subsidy of 45,000 euros and probably by keeping part of the amounts received by other entrepreneurs, whose applications they processed.
No one had noticed anything strange in that taxpayer's money always went into the pockets of a few people, because that had always been the way of doing things in Finland
This has caused a lot of outrage among Finnish citizens and has led some journalists to investigate the companies and managers who have benefited the most. The results of that investigation caused a lot of anger in this peaceful country that until now boasted of not having corruption.
Suddenly, the press started to denounce the existence of structural corruption. A system protected by law that for many years has been benefiting the same people, who distribute taxpayers' money among their companies or their acquaintances.
Now it turns out that Business Finland subsidizes its suppliers and also companies of politicians, celebrities, their spouses, trusted people or friends. The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat has even found business relations between the members of Business Finland's executive board and companies that received subsidies.
But the most striking thing is the naturalness with which people among the ruling class have taken it.
As in the case of famine in Ethiopia, no one had noticed anything strange. Simply because that had always been the way of doing things. For years, nobody saw anything strange in that taxpayer's money always went into the pockets of a few. And that the beneficiaries were always the same few.
Nina Kopola must resign or be dismissed. And Sanna Marin and Mika Lintilä must go to Parliament and explain all the details of this case, until all the doubts that citizens still have are cleared.
So it does not surprise me that, instead of launching an investigation, the CEO of Business Finland, Nina Kopola, hastened to ensure that everything was done "according to the rules." Her statements to the press suggest there is nothing to investigate, since Business Finland already audits its own decisions and no errors have ever been detected.
The system seems great: the same people who distribute the money give it to themselves or their acquaintances, and if later it turns out that there is something to investigate they also investigate themselves.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin tried to solve the matter first with a couple of tweets and later with statements claiming that her spouse had nothing to do with those suspicious practices. Even though he was leading the grant application project. They all blame now a mysterious "individual employee" to whom the company has given "a warning."
The case has damaged the reputation of the head of government and has cast doubt on Business Finland and the prime minister's husband and his employer. But the suspected person, whose identity remains secret, has received "a warning." If I weren't reading it on serious newspapers, I would think this is an Ismo Leikola joke.
Embarrassed by the wave of discontent, the Minister of Economic Affaris, Mika Lintilä, to whom Business Finland reports, announced last week an internal investigation. But that is clearly not enough, anger and concern continues to rise among citizens.
Nina Kopola must resign or be dismissed. She has proved that she is unable to rise to a problem like this. And Sanna Marin and Mika Lintilä must go to Parliament and explain all the details of this case, until all the doubts that citizens still have are cleared.
Finnish democracy has plenty of instruments to clean up bad practices where it is needed. In fact, the Ministry of Justice announced last Friday the formation a working group to prepare "an anti-corruption strategy and action plan" to address it.
Yes, you read correctly. The government has also said the cursed word. In Ethiopia they once had famine and in Finland we now have this thing called corruption.
Let's help public bodies put an end to it.