On Tuesday 3 June 2016, Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen submitted his Annual Report 2015 to Speaker of Parliament Maria Lohela.
Compared to previous years, the Annual Report increasingly highlights the rights of persons having been deprived of their liberty and the rights of persons with disabilities. A record number of inspections were carried out in the reporting year. While the number of complaints went up slightly, their processing times were shortened further.
The Annual Report contains reviews by Parliamentary Ombudsman Jääskeläinen and Deputy-Ombudsmen Jussi Pajuoja and Maija Sakslin.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman oversees the rights of persons with disabilities
In his review, the Parliamentary Ombudsman discusses the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in Finland on 10 June 2016. The process aiming to bring the Convention into force took almost ten years in this country. The Parliamentary Ombudsman finds it regrettable that the slowness of the process to ratify international human rights conventions is a rule rather than an exception in Finland. Finland was one of the last three EU Member States to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As the Convention is ratified, supervising the rights of persons with disabilities will be assigned as a new special function to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Among other things, the Ombudsman has prepared for this task by bringing up issues related to the rights of persons with disabilities on each inspection visit and carrying out increasing numbers of inspections in housing units for the disabled.
The results of investigations of complaints and observations made during inspections indicate that the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities is fraught with many problems. Problems have been found in such areas as the provision of services for the disabled, accessibility of premises and services as well as restrictions on the right of self-determination of persons with intellectual disabilities.
How can good early childhood education and care be delivered?
In his review, Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja asks: "How can we deliver good early childhood education and care?? Early childhood education and care means day-care centres or family day care.
The Finnish National Board of Education is currently preparing a national core curriculum for early childhood education and care. It will lay the foundation for local curricula, which must be introduced in August 2017 at the latest. At day-care centres and in family day care, an individual plan is prepared for each child.
The challenge is that these plans will be implemented in a situation where there are significant differences between the resources available for different municipalities. Amendments to the Early childhood education and care act (varhaiskasvatuslaki, 580/2015) and the Day care decree (239/1973) will enter into force at the beginning of August. At minimum, this means that the municipality will offer each child 20 hours of care each week in a group with a ratio of one adult to eight children.
The Finnish National Board of Education is concerned that the quantitative minimum of the offer will also mean a minimum in terms of the content. If a municipality has meagre resources, it is not possible to invest in such areas as ICT. This further raises the question of when a critical point is reached where the national core curriculum is no longer implemented equally in different municipalities or in case of individual children.
Fundamental rights and austerity
Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin discusses fundamental rights and public economy savings in her review.
Cuts that affect almost all fundamental rights have been made to rebalance the public finances. Austerity is particularly fateful when it affects the rights, equal treatment and legal protection of the most vulnerable persons.
Economic uncertainty undermines trust in society's ability to guarantee the realisation of fundamental rights. The tide of negative development can be turned by maintaining a strong, open democracy. A democracy that builds on fundamental and human rights creates security and trust in society.
A number of conditions for restricting human rights on the basis of financial reasons are becoming established in the international monitoring practice of fundamental and human rights. A precondition for implementing savings that restrict and undermine rights is careful consideration of alternatives. Measures aiming for savings should be essential and respectful of the principle of proportionality, and they may not be discriminatory. Savings should also always be associated with simultaneous measures that moderate and alleviate their impacts on people who are in the most vulnerable position.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman plays a key role in the supervision of compliance with fundamental rights and in monitoring the impacts of savings in a challenging economic situation. Based on complaints received and the inspections conducted, it is obvious that economic reasons frequently crop up in the background of illegal actions and violations of fundamental rights. Inadequate financial resources often lead to significant failings in the realisation of rights.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman is approachable and examines complaints free of charge. People thus turn to the Ombudsman for assistance more frequently. Unfortunately, at the very time when there is a great need for overseeing the realisation of fundamental rights, attempts are being made to find savings in the resources of the overseers of legality, rather than increasing these resources to safeguard fundamental rights also at a time of a public finance crisis.
Number of complaints increased slightly, a record number of inspections was carried out
In 2015, the number of complaints received was 4,759. This is the second highest figure of all times, and some 150 more than in 2014. 4,794 complaints were resolved, or slightly more than the number of complaints received.
At the turn of the year, no pending complaints dated back to more than a year. This target was reached for the third successive year. The average time of processing complaints was as low as 3.2 months.
Of all the complaints resolved and own-initiative investigations completed, 834, or 17 per cent, resulted in action on the part of the Ombudsman.
In 2015, inspections were conducted of 152 sites/bodies. This is the highest figure of all times, and almost 37% more than the year before (111).
The Annual Report of the Parliamentary Ombudsman is published in Finnish and Swedish. Additionally, an English summary of the Annual Report is published at a later date. The Annual Report is also published in pdf format online.
The Human Rights Centre, which operates under the auspices of the Office, prepares its own Annual Report.
The Annual Report of the Parliamentary Ombudsman was published on 3 June 2016 on the Ombudsman's website at http://www.oikeusasiamies.fi/ and http://www.ombudsman.fi/. Further information is available from Secretary General Päivi Romanov, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3333 or email@example.com.