Ombudsman rebukes minister for recusability
Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has criticised the Minister of Transport Anu Vehviläinen for having participated while recusable in Government decision making concerning the amalgamation of the municipalities of Eno and Pyhäselkä with the city of Joensuu.
In the view of the Ombudsman, Vehviläinen should have realised that she could not play a role in decision making concerning the same municipal amalgamation both as a councillor on the local-government level and as a minister at cabinet level. When she had taken part in the decision making in the Joensuu City Council, she should have recused herself when the matter was being dealt with by the Government. The Ombudsman has pointed out to the Minister that questions of recusability must be carefully considered in future.
According to the Administrative Procedure Act, a public servant is recusable when, inter alia, trust in his or her impartiality is jeopardised for a particular reason. A reason of this kind can be the public servant's participation in earlier handling of the matter in a lower authority. The regulation applies also to members of the Council of State (i.e. the Government).
A municipality's administration is founded on self-government by its residents. The abolition of one's own municipality can often be fiercely opposed. In the view of Ombudsman Jääskeläinen, the nature and significance of a municipal amalgamation matter accentuate the demand that the preparatory work for and decision making in relation to the matter are done appropriately and impartially in a way that inspires public confidence.
When the Government decided in mid-June 2008 to amalgamate the municipalities of Eno and Pyhäselkä with the city of Joensuu, the decision was appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court with a demand that it be quashed on grounds that included the Minister's recusability. In its decision issued in early December 2008, the Court rejected the appeal. It found that Minister Vehviläinen had been recusable when participating in handling of the matter by the Government, but nevertheless did not consider her recusability to constitute such a procedural error that the Government decision would have to be overturned because of it.
A complaint about the Minister's recusability was also made to the Ombudsman. Since the Supreme Administrative Court had already established that she had been recusable, the only task remaining for the Ombudsman was to evaluate the degree of reproachfulness of the Minister's action.
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