Finnish PM’s prudence, simplicity an example for other national leaders

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Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila - Photograph: Sakari Pippo/Finland Prime Minister's Office

Politicians like Juha Sipila are a rare breed and he makes politics look like a very noble profession, writes Benedict Lopez.

High expectations and moral rectitude are the keystones of any democratic and transparent society. Good governance and accountability are rooted in citizens’ and leaders’ conduct in their daily lives springing from a virtuous character.

Many Finns, like many citizens in the other Nordic countries, embody such traits – something which I observed during my 17 visits to Finland and in meetings with Finnish companies spanning four and a half years.

The Finns I met were extremely meticulous, innovative and industrious, constantly striving for excellence and placing a strong emphasis on quality education. Striving for the long-term good of the nation and innovation seemed to be a national passion and a labour of love for them.

So it is not surprising that Finland today is home to hundreds of start-ups in all areas from information and communications technology to renewable energy. It is a country which has created several self-made millionaires, including current Prime Minister Juha Sipila.

While it is nothing special to read about celebrities and the rich-and-famous owning and piloting their own planes, rarely do we hear of politicians in the cockpit of an aeroplane – like Sipila.

Widely acknowledged for his credentials as an ardent pilot and with a penchant for simplicity and for saving taxpayers’ money, Sipila sometimes flies the private jets he uses when travelling on official duties.

But despite being a millionaire, Sipila doesn’t own the planes he flies, but rents them. Even more admirable about this leader of Finland is that he pays for the bill himself when carrying out his official duties!

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Sure, being a millionaire, he can afford it, but how many leaders are like him, spending their own money when carrying out their official obligations? Even politicians who are multi-millionaires would expect taxpayers to foot the bill for their government assignments, which in all objectivity is also politically and morally correct.

Sipila, however, is a man who walks the talk, practises what he preaches and leads by example through his actions. Well known for his simplicity, Sipila takes any form of transport available. Disregarding his status, he adopts pragmatic solutions when confronted with a predicament

In one reported episode, the prime minister surprised many when after missing a commercial flight due to a longer-than-expected meeting, he took an ambulance flight and sat on the small plane’s toilet seat for the duration of the journey, with the last passenger seat allotted to his wife. Such is the remarkable humility of the Finnish prime minister.

Politicians like Sipila are a rare breed, and he makes politics look like a very noble profession. WIth his honesty, integrity and dedication, Sipila is the epitome of a model politician for others to emulate.

Regrettably, politicians like Sipila are hard to come by, around the world.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime