Monday, January 12, 2009

Government Buddies

In today´s Helsingin Sanomat the Minister of Culture makes public his plans for reforming the funding for the arts. If Stefan Wallin gets his way, the Central Committee of the Arts would develop into a strong and largely independent body much like the Academy of Finland.

I would fully support a change where like in science, the arts funding decisions would be taken by experts of the field with a greater arm´s length from the government. This sounds more like how things were done in the Netherlands. I would also take the reform to the same level as in the Netherlands where the evaluations of arts institutions are made public so that people and the media can scrutinise and understand why dance group X gets a certain amount and why theatre Z loses half of its funding. Making government more transparent is something that I feel quite passionate about.

As a somewhat veteran of the civil society, I would encourage Mr Wallin to take a careful look also on the ways NGO funding decisions are taken. As much as I support government funding for the civil society, I am slightly troubled by the relationships emerging when civil servants or politically appointed bodies make decisions on NGO funding. I fear that the dependency on decisions by the Ministry of Education creates a civil society less willing to attack the government fiercely and a civil society serving the government rather than acting as a healthy counter force. It is only natural that a NGO leader concerned about the budget for next year feels inclined to buddy up with the Minister or the top civil servant.

In this sense I do understand bodies like Amnesty or Greenpeace which guarantee their independence by refusing government funding however this is not the solution for all civil society. I do support civil society funding as one of government´s core responsibilities. But it troubles me that it does not take years of research to identify a relationship between decreased peace NGO funding and a centre-right government, increased environmental NGO funding and the Greens in the government or the Swedish People´s Party in the government and increased funding for organisations taking care of the largely Swedish-speaking archipelago.

I would encourage Mr Wallin to look into creating an independent body deciding on funding for the civil society and making public their criteria and evaluations. This would make government more transparent, decrease risks of corruption, feed political debate and in the end support an emergence of a more active civil society.

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