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Helsinki Art Museum's directors impartiality was jeopardised in preparatory work for Guggenheim project

Rebukes from Deputy-Ombudsman

Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin takes the view that the impartiality of the art museum director Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén was jeopardised in preparatory work for the Guggenheim-Helsinki museum project. She considers Gallen-Kallela-Sirén's action in the matter reprehensible.

While the preparatory work for the project was being done, Gallen-Kallela-Sirén had, through his membership of the supervisory board of Ekoport Turku Oy and his spouse's employment relationship, developed a special and firm bond with a Finnish member of the board of the Guggenheim Foundation and through this person also with the Foundation and the project itself.

Public discussion of the matter revealed that doubts had arisen about the appropriateness of the way in which the project had been handled. In addition, the project was a significant one in terms of both finances and cultural policy.

In Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin's view, these facts assessed as a whole constituted a special reason in the meaning of the relevant Act for concluding that Gallen-Kallela-Sirén's impartiality was jeopardised while the preparatory work for the project was being done.

"As I see it, Gallen-Kallela-Sirén should have understood the serious suspicion of recusability on his part that arose from those linkages,"she points out in her decision.

The matter was investigated on the basis of a complaint made by a private person and reports relating to it were obtained from the Helsinki City Board and the art museum director Gallen-Kallela-Sirén. The details of the project were studied in the minutes of the City Board.

Responsible person on behalf of the City

The Director of the Helsinki Art Museum, Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén, was responsible for acting on behalf of the City in the preparatory work for the Guggenheim museum project and handled liaison with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

As the City's representative, he assisted in directing and coordinating the preparation of a report concerning the establishment of the museum and participated in meetings of a group of experts. He also acted as a referendary when the board of the art museum was making a submission on the matter to the City Board.

While the study for the museum project was being conducted, Gallen-Kallela-Sirén was invited to become a member of the supervisory board of Ekoport Turku Oy. The supervisory board is chaired by a Finnish member of the board of the Guggenheim Foundation. Gallen-Kallela-Sirén’s spouse was given a position as an employee of the company.

Significant project

Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin points out that the Guggenheim-Helsinki museum was an important project in the sense of art and culture policy, and one that called for a significant financial input by the City of Helsinki. The City paid the Guggenheim Foundation €1.2 million for the study relating to the project. It had undertaken a commitment to pay, inter alia, the design and construction costs of the project.

The project prompted strong opposition and support, for which reason it was the focus of major public interest.

The Helsinki City Board turned down the Guggenheim museum project in May 2012. Therefore any procedural error caused by Gallen-Kallela-Sirén's possible recusability in the preparatory work for the project and its effect on the permanence of a decision can not be referred to a court for evaluation.

Ground for assessment of recusability

The decision issued by the Deputy-Ombudsman contains an extensive review of the legal guidelines, case law and legal literature relating to recusability.

The purpose of the ground for recusability set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act is to safeguard the objectivity and impartiality with which a matter is handled and public trust in the independence of officials and authorities.

Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Ulla-Maija Lindström, tel. +358(0)9 432 3355.