July 21, 2017 Print

In Finland, the government holds high stakes in private organizations through generous public funding, often making the private organizations more concerned with the needs of the government than the people. A large source of the public funding is taken straight from the taxpayers through the state lottery and gaming system.

Libera Foundation, an Atlas Network partner based in Helsinki, has created a database of government involvement in civil life, where consumers can take a look at how much money an organization is receiving from the government. Libera is focused on the lottery and gaming system because it is a major source of waste and creates a legal grey area where the government is able to pick and choose favorites.

Libera also recently published “Golden Fetters, 10 Steps Towards a Freer Civil Society”, a study that argues for a genuine civil society with reduced public funding from the government, a modification of funding allocation criteria, and a complete removal of the subsidies from the lottery and gaming system. Heikki Pursianen, a Finnish economist and Libera’s executive director, presented part of the study at a recent conference, explaining how to create a vibrant civil society based on voluntarism and private funding.

"The main ambition for the Golden Fetters report was to start a public debate on an problem that few Finns even thought existed at all," said Lasse Pipinen, Libera COO. "And it has worked; there are now the beginnings of a real debate ... However, there is a long way to go before any concrete changes in legislation can be expected. The issue is out there, and there have been many sympathetic views expressed in private by decision-makers and ordinary people alike. But the system is well-entrenched. The government lottery monopoly is a very effective lobbyist and one of the largest advertisers in the country. So our campaign for a free civil society goes on."

"There are two big obstacles to progress on this particular issue," continued Pipinen. "The first is widespread complacency and failure to see the problems associated with the status quo. Government control of civil society is regarded as normal, even beneficial. Many Finns express the view, that civil society activity would cease or wither away if the government would not fund it to the current extent. And in fact, the culture of private giving is relatively weak because people think that funding civil society is the government’s business."

Pursianen and the Libera team hope to foster an arena of thought for Finnish people interested in a society where freedom and responsibility meet.

"The second problem is the strength of the government lottery monopoly and the whole funding apparatus," said Pipinen. "The monopolist, Veikkaus, is an effective lobbyist and one the biggest advertisers in the country. It is often said that advertising revenue from Veikkaus makes media reluctant to publish material that are against its interests. It is of course impossible to say to what extent this is actually the case. Many high-level politicians are directly involved in the system by being members of the Veikkaus supervisory board. And of course, political parties and their sister organizations are major recipients of public civil society funds."