THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Disillusionment of a Finnish Maiden: Political Corruption, Quality Hardwood

When discussing corruption with my African friends I can no longer show that innocent, pitiful look and say: "Corruption must be a terrible problem, but it is not really my problem. We don't have it in my country, as we are a transparent, organized, and fair nation."

The problem is mine now, too, as the biggest political corruption scandal of my adult, politically aware lifetime (altogether 32 years, maybe half of it politically aware) has hit Finland, my native country.

Finland is ranked as one of the least corrupted countries on the globe, and we Finns are used to consider ourselves as the fairest players in the world. Also, I as a Finnish citizen, as naive it may sound, am used to thinking that the public funds, also my tax Euros, go where they are supposed to go.

How wrong I was. The evolving scandal has revealed that Finnish political parties and politicians have received funds from charities, foundations, trade unions, and businesses for election campaigns.

For example, the Youth Foundation, a foundation aimed for supporting affordable youth housing, had donated money to the political campaigns, including the campaign of the current prime minister Matti Vanhanen's. The foundation was chaired by an MP from prime minister's Centre Party. The foundation has received big funds from the state-owned gaming monopoly, which is at the end ruled by the prime minister. Basically, that is like allocating money to himself.

The prime minister has described the funding scandal as being about decades-old, established practices for which he is not solely responsible for. Well, probably not solely responsible, but he has been a key piece of the chain enabling the corrupt culture continue and flourish by accepting the wrong doings.

Here, I confess that I have something in common with the prime minister Vanhanen. I'm guilty of participating in bribing games: When traveling in Africa as a journalist, I've sometimes had to pay extra money to get out of tricky situations. I've paid to get a visa faster, or paid under the counter to get to leave a country with overweight baggage.

These are small things that make life easier. Still, it is not right. My acts have strengthened the culture of corruption, and I'm ashamed of that. It doesn't make my doings any more acceptable even though I know that the others bribed too. The amount of money doesn't make difference either -- low morals are low morals.

The unsuccessful search for high quality hardwood building materials is almost a hilarious episode in the scandal. Recently the Finnish Broadcasting Company claimed that the prime minister had received free building materials for his house from a construction company. The same construction company has building contracts with a foundation that has contributed to the election campaigns of the prime minister's party.

Prime Minister Vanhanen refuted the claims and asked a construction magazine, TM Rakennusmaailma, to inspect the house. The inspectors sent by the magazine didn't find the type of hardwood that the Finnish Broadcasting Company had claimed was given gratis to Vanhanen.

The Finnish scandal might sound unadventurous compared to the corruption crisis going on in Spain. Nevertheless, in the history of human kind, the scandal is another sad failure to build a transparent, fair society where powerful positions are not abused for individual gain.

Furthermore, the scandal creates challenges to the corruption measurement methods in organized social welfare countries like Finland where corruption is not in direct bribes with concrete money changing hands. Instead, the corruption is hidden inside opaque governmental structures and unclear money flows from organization to another -- and these organizations are ruled by politicians.

The governmental structural corruption is destructive as it strengthens the political status quo. It also favors established strong parties to the disadvantage of new, smaller parties or political groups.

Next time, when talking about corruption with my African friends I will say: "Yes, I know what political corruption is -- it is decadent, repulsive, and it happens in Finland too."