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Finnish Transport Agency acted contrary to the principle of preservation of trust

The Finnish Transport Agency has been rebuked by Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja for having, one month before the autumn 2012 local election campaign, amended the guidelines concerning roadside election advertising and for having failed to inform those participating in the campaign of this.

The new guidelines put the ring roads in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area on a par with motorways and dual carriageways, beside which it is not permitted to place election hoardings. These had earlier been allowed along ring roads, provided they did not endanger traffic safety.

The set of guidelines had been e-mailed to the Centre for Traffic Customer Service for its information. The Uusimaa Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centre) had all election hoardings removed from along the ring roads in Espoo ten days before the elections. There were four truckloads of them.

The participants in the election campaign had not been informed of the change and there was no mention of it on the Finnish Transport Agency's web site.

Official actions must enjoy trust

In the assessment of the Deputy-Ombudsman, the Finnish Transport Agency acted contrary to the principle of preservation of trust.

"A private party must be able to trust that the behaviour of an authority will not change without warning or with retroactive effect in such a way that it adversely affects a right or interest of that private party," he points out. 

Those who erected the election hoardings along the ring roads should have been able to trust that the guidelines they knew of would not suddenly change.

In the opinion of the Deputy-Ombudsman, the Agency should consider also making recompense to those demanding it.

He also asked the Agency to inform him, by the end of February, of what guidelines it intended to issue concerning election hoardings along the ring roads in the next European Parliament elections.

Two election candidates as complainants

Two candidates for the Espoo city council complained to the Ombudsman about the matter. They asked him to examine whether the official action in the matter had been in accordance with good administrative practice, given that the rules had been changed by means of an e-mail message only and at such a late stage that most of the advertising had already been produced.

A further criticism made by the complainants was that the advertising material that was removed had been treated as waste, something that caused them expenses. Under the guidelines, advertising that has been withdrawn from use must be stored in such a way that the owners can, if they so wish, come and collect them.

Additional info will be provided by Principal Legal Adviser Raino Marttunen, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3343.