|Hearing of citizens||Text version|
The aim of hearing of citizens is to gather expert information and knowledge based on experience from citizens about an issue to be decided on. Public bodies that ask for citizens’ views include ministries, central government agencies and municipal authorities.
Typical forms of hearing include:
During a round of comments government circulates its draft decision for comments to selected experts and civic groups. For the success of such preparatory work it is important to ensure that comments are obtained from an adequately broad range of people and organisations.
An NGO often acts in the role of an expert. For example, a human rights organisation can comment on human rights policies, a residents’ association on local building projects, and so on. An NGO can also use its own initiative to submit a comment without being invited to do so by government.
In drafting of legislation by ministries, citizens are primarily heard through the procedure for the obtaining of comments.
Public events provide a useful channel for individual citizens to voice their opinion about decisions on issues that affect them. Public events act as a direct channel for exchange of ideas and views between government and citizens.
Government can also employ discussion forums to ask for citizens’ opinions about local issues or the need for legislative reform. For example, in August 2001 the Ministry of Justice invited debate on the status of crime victims on the government online discussion forum.
In Finland hearings are organised on a wide variety of issues. In municipal government the most common topics for hearings are town planning, land use and the environment.
For example, opinions on material related to a draft for a local plan can be voiced by local residents, those owning land in the planned area and those whose housing, working or other conditions are affected by the plan.
Finland’s new Gene Technology Act requires consultation with the public in connection with any planned field testing. When the Board for Gene Technology receives an application for field testing, it must publicise this in the Official Gazette. Public hearings are announced on the Board website. Plans for the management of Finland’s wolf, bear and lynx populations were prepared through extensive citizens’ hearings at public events and on the basis of a survey.
These examples illustrate the many walks of life covered by hearings. At times NGOs also demand that government organise extensive hearings if they think an issue calls for broad-based public consultation.
The authority in question is responsible for publicising forthcoming hearings. Information can be found from sources including ministerial and municipal websites and local media.
Hearings do not reduce decision-makers’ responsibility or affect their rights. The basic idea behind hearings is that public servants and political decision-makers receive feedback from citizens to assist their decision-making work.
At best a hearing provides the decision-maker with new information and a fresh perspective on the issue being dealt with.
Hearing of citizens’ views is a component of good governance required by Finnish legislation. It improves the quality of drafting work and facilitates the implementation of decisions. It is up to the decision-makers how the information received is ultimately used.
A comprehensive summary of comments, responses and ideas received regarding every issue must always be made. Comments, opinions and views expressed in hearings and statements must be brought up at the decision-making stage. Draft decisions must also detail viewpoints that did not result in changes, and reasons for not including them. Summaries must be available for public inspection.
Finnish legislation obliges government to consult citizens. Basic provisions for freedom of speech, the right to access information about documents in the possession of public authorities, and the right to influence issues and participate in activities are set out in the Constitution of Finland.
Other legislation also contains provisions about hearing of citizens. For example, the new Youth Act sets out the obligation to provide young people with the opportunity to participate in decisions related to local and regional youth work and policies. Young people must also be heard in issues concerning them.
Updated on October 12, 2006