Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finland's Prosecutor General Suspended Indefinitely On Suspicion Of Corruption

Via Business Insider:

For a country that prides itself on its honest character, the ongoing investigation into nepotism over a prolonged period by one of the country's top legal eagles has comes as a shock - or rude awakening, depending on the viewpoint.

Prosecutor General Matti Nissanen is the subject of scrutiny by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for conflict of interest and violation of official duties by hiring his brother's company for training purposes over the course of eight years.

Finland usually rank's high on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index and is currently ranked third out of 176 nations with a score of 89/100. Only Denmark and New Zealand score higher when it comes to the important morality stakes, though TDI says cuttingly, "No nation comes close to a perfect score," with the top two on 90.

The NBI was reported by state broadcaster YLE to have completed its preliminary sleuthing and given the brief to the Chancellor of Justice - not the Prosecutor general's office as would be the case in other circumstances.

The company involved, Deep Lead, has, as its Chair, Colonel Vesa Nissinen who also happens to be the Director of the Finnish Defence Research Agency as well as a majority owner of the company. YLE reports that Deep Lead has been paid €74.000 ($90.000) for providing training services up to 2015.

The story broke last February in Finland's highly respected current affairs weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti.

As the relationship started three years before Matti Nissinen became Prosecutor General in 2010, he refutes breaking any laws, but admitted that he had made, "A mistake in handling the matter". Accordingly, he requested to be put on leave in March with his deputy taking over temporarily. This leave has now turned into indefinite suspension and will in all likelihood be permanent as President Ninnistö is to name a new permanent prosecutor general soon.

The NBI for its part states that Nissinen should not have been involved at all in the decision to contract Deep Lead, which had rather suspiciously been his idea originally. Equally damming is a long complimentary appraisal of Deep Lead's work on the company's website by Matti Nissinen.

I feel badly for the whole prosecutor's office because of this, Matti Nissinen was quoted as saying, "As nobody else has done anything except me. I'm prepared to help as much as l can. It is now out of my hands, l don't have any skeletons waiting to come out and l expect justice to prevail".

Monday, August 07, 2017

Professional eSports Are Taking Off In Finland – Pro Players Now Officially Recognized As Athletes

Via Business Insider:

The Finnish Central Tax Board considers esports competitors to be athletes. According to a decision freshly issued by the board: "A broad interpretation of sports, in addition to physical competition can also mean mental games of skill, where success is primarily based on something other than physical performance".

The subject of the rendered decision is a Finnish tax resident playing videogames for an American organization. In the contract between the player and the team, the player is committed to participate in tournaments, practice games, marketing events, interviews and photo shoots. The player is paid a monthly salary and various other bonuses, such as part of the tournament winnings.

The ruling is not merely symbolic either, as earnings officially deemed to be income from professional sports activities can be partially invested in a tax-sheltered investment fund meant to smooth out the transition as one's sports career starts winding down.

In other esports news, major Finnish electronics chain Gigantti has announced their arrival to the professional gaming scene by picking up the entire former roster of Ninjas in Pyjamas – a Swedish esports organization – and reforming it as Team Gigantti. All team members are full-time players and Gigantti claims to be committing to esports for the long run.

While the squad failed to qualify for the Overwatch World Cup in an event held in Sydney, Australia a week ago, Team Gigantti didn’t take long to claim their first notable win: a 3-0 victory in the finals of ASUS ROG's Assembly Summer Overwatch tournament in Helsinki, Finland on 4 August.

Team Gigantti will next compete against Europe's top teams in the Overwatch Contenders league that begins the week of 14 August.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Finland’s Booming Construction Industry Faces A Labor Shortage – Despite High Unemployment

Via Business Insider:

The construction industry is classically cyclical and it comes as no surprise that in Finland it is currently suffering from a dearth of management and manual workers. The surprise is that this is a country where the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 8.9%.

According to the Confederation of Finnish Industries, 37% of member companies report they are suffering from a shortage of personnel, which is 3% more than a year ago.

"The last time it was this high was in 2007 when the sector was red hot and the economy was growing at a rate of 5.2%", the CFI's Chief Economist Penna Urrila told evening daily Iltalehti. He went on to add that the main problem until now was demand, but that has now been superseded by recruitment difficulties.

The root of the situation can perhaps be traced back to the removal of site manager training courses between 1997-2007, which, in turn, led to retirees being asked to return to work. Specialized construction management tertiary education has returned, but the ten-year gap has caused a demographic chasm that is proving difficult to bridge.

Similarly, the Finnish Construction Trade Union accuses Finnish firms of not looking ahead.

"Construction firms should look 2-3 years ahead like they used to in order to ensure there is a sufficient workforce", said the FCTU Deputy Chairman Kyösti Suokkaa, who went on to point out that when there is no work, a skilled employee is simply fired, which hardly encourages people to take up construction jobs.

"This does not happen in the engineering industry. There, nobody expects somebody to come in and know how to use a computer lathe immediately, and then, when there is no work, kick him [or her] out", Kyösti Suokkaa said.

"I am sorry [to say this], but in Finland there would be thousands of people ready to switch to the construction industry if it only was possible. When I started working on a construction site I was 15. Now it's impossible for anyone under 18 to get near one – which is Finland's biggest problem. It's not a question of pay, as current set rates are attractive".

It would seem that foreign workers are the obvious solution and many Estonians, Russians and Poles are working in Finland, but statistics show that their numbers are no longer increasing in proportion to the total workforce. Even so, the Federation of Finnish Construction Industries currently claims a total of 20.000 foreign workers, which is six times more than are in the union, as many are self-employed.

However, the construction boom in both commercial and residential properties – with the latter supported by high demand for low-interest mortgages now on offer – has led to some calls that a bubble is once again forming.

"Risk increases when building permits raise residential costs too much, which the developer then passes on to investors", comments Juha Metsälä, CEO of home builder Pohjolan Rakennus, "The authorities now have good cause to create reforms that cut costs".

Mortgage lender Hypo's Chief Economist Juhana Brotherus is not so concerned for the moment, seeing no bubble yet. "Both the Finnish industry and consumer confidence indexes indicate that Finland's economy is heading forwards and upwards. And the construction boom is being driven by the market, mainly producing new compact apartments".

This comment refers to the late-80s boom when property speculation was fed by irresponsible bank lending which led to Finland's economy crashing by over 10% in 1991. The remedy was to devalue the Finnish currency, markka, in order to create an export-driven recovery, but caused unemployment to peak at over 22%.