PM forced to release coronavirus papers after accusations of secrecy

The Coronavirus Coordination Group - headed by a former Social Democratic Party staffer - refused to hand over documents to journalists, claiming the relevant laws didn't apply to them.

PM Sanna Marin with State Secretary Mikko Koskinen (L) and Director of Gov't Security Ahti Kurvinen, 1st April 2020 / Credit: Lauri Heikkinen, VNK

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) has been forced to order the release of papers that show how an expert committee handled coronavirus deliberations, after being accused of unnecessarily keeping them secret.

The non-confidential papers were used by the government’s Coronavirus Coordination Group which was set up in February and headed by Marin’s State Secretary Mikko Koskinen – a former Social Democratic Party staffer – and his counterparts from ministries.

The Coordination Group has been discussing a wide range of issues around the pandemic and the government’s response to it: including border security, protective equipment for health workers and strategies for testing, and how to handle the spread of the virus as the situation continued to worsen during spring.

Finnish News Agency STT had earlier asked to see all the unclassified documents, which it believed should have been made available upon request in compliance with the 1999 Act on the Openness of Government Activities.

However, Koskinen only handed over the agenda of the meetings, but none of the documents related to the items being discussed, saying the Coordination Group was not covered by the 1999 Act. STT had also requested other documents from the group, the PM’s office and ministries, but received no response within the two week time limit set by law.

STT asked leading legal expert Olli Mäenpää – a former Supreme Court judge – to review their requests and the Coordination Group response, and he concluded there was no reason for the officials to withhold the documents that STT asked for.

On Saturday Sanna Marin tweeted that the Government had outlined in early May that “in principle all background material and calculations on which coronavirus decision-making was based should be published in accordance with the principles of open science and research.”

The PM said she was now ordering her State Secretary Mikko Koskinen to hand over all the information requested by media outlets – even though he had previously claimed the 1999 Act on the Openness of Government Activities did not apply to the work of the Coordination Group.