Thursday 30 April 2015

Finnish millionaire feels sting of $78k fine for speeding

The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

HELSINKI - Getting a speeding ticket is not a feel-good moment for anyone. But consider Mr Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman.

He was recently fined €54,024 (S$78,295) for travelling at a modest, if illegal, 103kmh in a 80kmh zone. And no, the €54,024 was not a typo, or a mistake of any kind.

Mr Kuisla is a millionaire and, in Finland, the fines for more serious speeding infractions are calculated according to income. The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too.

The ticket had its desired effect. Mr Kuisla, 61, took to Facebook last month with 12 furious posts, in which he included a picture of his speeding ticket and a picture of what €54,024 could buy if it was not going to the state coffers - a new Mercedes. He said he was seriously considering leaving Finland."The way things are done here makes no sense," he said, adding: "For what and for whom does this society exist? It is hard to say."

The Nordic countries have long had a strong egalitarian streak, embracing progressive taxation and high levels of social spending. Perhaps less well known is that they also practise progressive punishment when it comes to certain fines. A rich person, many citizens believe, should pay more for the same offence if justice is to be served.

On his Facebook page, quite a few of Mr Kuisla's friends offered their sympathy. But that did not seem to be the drift of public opinion. Elsewhere, it was easier to find Finns who were unmoved by his predicament. At the University of Helsinki, Mr Jussi Lahti, 35, a graduate student in geography, said he could understand that Mr Kuisla was upset, but that he considered the principle of an equal percentage fair. And, he added, Mr Kuisla "had a choice when he decided to speed".

The size of Mr Kuisla's ticket nonetheless drew considerable attention, as television shows and newspapers debated the merits of Finland's system, which uses a complex formula based on income to calculate an individual's fines. Some wondered whether the government should stop imposing such fines for infractions at relatively low speeds. Some suggested that a fine so big was really a form of taxation.

But the idea that the rich should pay heavier fines did not seem to be much in question.

"It is an old system," said National Police Board chief superintendent Pasi Kemppainen.

In fact, the Finnish "day fine" system, also in use in some other Scandinavian countries, dates to the 1920s, when fines based on income were instituted for all manner of lesser crimes, such as petty theft, and helped greatly to reduce the prison population.


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