Limits to Openness in Finnish Development Policy: Selecting the World Bank Executive Director

“Openness, right to information and access to decision-making are fundamental principles of the rule of law and good governance.” This is one example of the many ways in which the Development Policy Program of the Finnish Government emphasizes the importance of openness. Nice words, but does the government practice what it preaches?

I have suggested before that the Finnish government, along with most other governments of rich countries, has actively reproduced the undemocratic decision-making system of institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. At the same time, we can read statements filled with grandiose claims about global partnership. It is of course possible that some day the government will actually make a move to implement the words of the same Development Policy Program, adopted in February 2012. According to the document, “Finland consistently strives for improving the voice and representation of the poorest developing countries” in the World Bank.

Over the years I have heard many a bureaucrat and politician tell me why it may actually not be rational to do what the government’s official statement claims. Let us not go there now. Let us instead assume a more moderate goal, expressed in the opening quote above. If democratization of the decision-making has proven so difficult, can we at least assume that in the field of openness the government would avoid double standards? This is, after all, Finland, right? We teach openness to the world.

One of the most important decisions in development policy issues is the selection of the person to represent Nordic and Baltic countries in the World Bank Board of Directors. Right now it is Finland’s turn to pick the Executive Director for this task. In the wealth-based system of rule, the representative of this relatively rich part of the world can in principle have more influence than the relatively small size of our corner of the world would otherwise suggest. This is one of the Northern pleasures of global undemocracy. Not so surprising, therefore, that it is a position with many enthusiastic aspirants. Unlike many other development policy issues, this one is mainly under the responsibility of the Minister of Finance and not the Minister for International Development.

Over the last couple of days I have made a few calls to the Ministry of Finance to see how the process of selecting the new Executive Director is going. I was not able to get a single person to publicly state anything and I had to agree not to directly quote any discussion I had. There seems to be an order that no one is allowed to give any public information about the process. When I pointed out that this hermetic silence may be in contradiction with the development policy principle that “openness, right to information and access to decision-making are fundamental principles of the rule of law and good governance”, the only publicly available answer was “no comments”.

It must be said that in January the government did make public the majority of the names of the aspirants, which may be considered a move toward some openness. For all I know, the process of appointing World Bank executive directors has not been all that open ever before in Finland nor in most of the other countries either. Any of this does not, however, compensate for the lack of openness now.

This could have been a good moment to put into practice the principles the government preaches and promote a public debate about the criteria. We could have heard how the candidates would advance the goals of the development policy program. Instead, we have a refusal to give any public comments about the process. Of course, the media and any concerned citizens can contact those candidates whose names have been circulated. For any citizen-based debate intiative, it would be helpful if the government released some information about the scheduling of the selection process. Even that information, however, is now surrounded by secrecy.

Coherence is another catchword we hear often in development policy circles. Perhaps, to increase coherence, the government could now reformulate the development policy principle: “Openness, right to information and access to decision-making are fundamental principles of the rule of law and good governance as long as they do not threaten wealth-based systems of rule.”

Teivo Teivainen, Professor of World Politics
teivo.teivainen(at)helsinki.fi
Twitter @TeivoTeivainen

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One thought on “Limits to Openness in Finnish Development Policy: Selecting the World Bank Executive Director

  1. Pingback: Will the New World Bank Representative Practice what Finland Preaches? | Teivo Teivainen

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