Parliament oversees the Government and administration both politically and from the viewpoint of legality. The purpose of political oversight is to ensure that the actions taken by the Government are supported by a majority of MPs. The oversight of legality ensures that ministers' comply with legislation in performing their duties.
Parliamentary oversight can be conducted through interpellations and written and oral questions. The Government aids Parliament by submitting reports, accounts, announcements and statements by the Prime Minister.
The Audit Committee, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, the National Audit Office and the Parliamentary Ombudsman also oversee the Government.
According to the Constitution, the Government must enjoy Parliament's confidence. Parliament has the right to receive the information it requires concerning the measures taken by the Government and subordinate authorities. When Parliament considers government reports, accounts, announcements and statements by the Prime Minister, MPs can present their evaluations of the measures taken by the Government and authorities.
With the backing of at least 20 MPs the opposition can submit an interpellation in order to measure confidence in the Government or a particular minister. The Government must reply to an interpellation in plenary session within 15 days. Interpellations are generally answered by the Prime Minister or the minister whose administrative sector the question concerns. The Member whose signature appears first on the interpellation begins the debate, and then the parliamentary groups are given the floor in order of size.
The purpose of an interpellation is usually to debate an important issue in which the opposition believes that the Government’s measures are misdirected or inadequate. If a motion of censure has been made and seconded during the debate, Parliament votes to determine whether the Government or a particular minister enjoys its confidence. A vote of confidence requires a simple majority, or in other words those voting Yea outnumber those voting Nay.
An interpellation, together with the ensuing debate and vote, is always a significant parliamentary event. An interpellation is considered the most powerful means to ensure the functioning of the parliamentary system.
Members can submit written questions to the minister responsible for a particular matter. This is a request for the minister to provide further information on the matter. The minister must reply to a written question within 21 days after the question has been received by the Prime Minister's Office.
Question time is held on Thursdays at the beginning of the plenary session that starts at 4 pm. Here Members can present brief oral questions to the appropriate ministers and hear their replies. Ministers do not receive questions in advance, so question time is a test of their command of timely issues in their administrative sector. The Speaker decides the order in which Members may take the floor and how long each topic may be discussed. Parliament does not vote on matters during question time, which is televised by the Finnish Broadcasting Company.
The Audit Committee is responsible for parliamentary oversight of central government finances after the fact. It takes the initiative in deciding what matters to examine and reports significant findings to Parliament for consideration in plenary session.
The Audit Committee examines the Report on the Final Central Government Accounts, the Annual Activity Report of the National Audit Office and reports submitted by the Parliamentary Auditors, among other things. It also prepares matters concerning oversight of the management of central government finances. It has the right to decide what matters need to be examined and to submit reports to the plenary session on these matters.
The oversight of legality ensures that ministers comply with legislation in performing their duties. The Chancellor of Justice, who is appointed by the President of the Republic, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who is elected by Parliament, are the supreme overseers of legality in Finland.
Parliamentary oversight of legality focuses on the activities of the members of the Government. If Parliament believes that a minister has failed to comply with legislation in performing duties, it can decide to bring charges.
The Chancellor of Justice works in connection with the Government and oversees the legality of the decisions and measures taken by the Government, the ministries and the President of the Republic. Ensuring that the Government complies with legislation is one of the most important duties of the Chancellor of Justice, who resolves matters regarding the supervision of the Government as well as matters of principle or of far-reaching consequence.
Upon request the Chancellor of Justice must provide the President, the Government and ministries with information and opinions on legal issues. Opinions are generally in written form but may be given orally. In addition to the opinions referred to in the Constitution, the Chancellor of Justice receives requests for statements on different legislative drafting projects.
The Chancellor of Justice conducts oversight by reviewing complaints submitted in writing. The Chancellor can also take the initiative in investigating a specific matter.
The division of labour between the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman is prescribed in legislation. They do not examine the same matter at the same time. They operate independently and on an equal basis and do not scrutinise each other's procedures.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman strives to ensure that public authorities comply with legislation and also oversees the legality of the decisions and measures taken by the Government, the ministries and the President of the Republic.
The Ombudsman conducts oversight impartially and independently of Parliament. The Ombudsman submits an annual report to Parliament, along with special reports as necessary.
Anyone who feels that an authority has not complied with legislation or has failed to meet obligations in performing duties can file a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can also take the initiative in investigating a specific matter.
The Constitutional Law Committee is mainly responsible for issuing statements on the constitutionality of legislative proposals and other matters brought to its attention, as well as their relation to international human rights treaties.
The Constitutional Law Committee also considers matters related to ministerial responsibility, the reports of the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Government Annual Report. The committee may consult with the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
The Government submits reports, accounts, statements, communications and Prime Minister's announcements to Parliament. Prime Minister's announcements, reports and communications are means by which the Government can bring matters to Parliament's attention.
According to section 46 of the Constitution, the Government must submit an annual report to Parliament on its activities and on the measures taken in response to parliamentary decisions as well as an annual report on the management of central government finances and compliance with the Budget. This report is considered in committee and then in plenary session.
The Government also submits communications to Parliament on ministers' outside interests. Communications are presented in plenary session. Parliament does not make decisions on a communication, but Members may express their views on the matter.
The Government may submit to Parliament a report or statement on a timely matter or a significant development project being prepared by the Government. Government reports and statements are debated in plenary session. When a government report is discussed, confidence in the Government is not weighed.
When a government statement is discussed, a motion of censure may be made. The consideration of a statement usually ends in a vote to determine whether the Government enjoys Parliament's confidence. A statement may also be discussed by the committees before a vote is held.
The purpose of a Prime Minister's announcement is to bring up a subject for debate in Parliament. Decisions are not made at this time.