Automatgenererad bild.

21 September 2012

Foundation enjoying freedom subject to responsibility

The media have been examining Swedish public agencies and research foundations in the past few weeks. This is essentially a good thing, thinks Mistra’s Chief Executive Lars-Erik Liljelund, and shows the openness that should characterise a democratic society. But the actual reporting has sometimes reflected the misconception that agencies and foundations are comparable organisations. There, in fact, are key differences between the regulations governing them.

Mistra is one of the Swedish research foundations that were set up by the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) with money from the wage-earner funds, which were simultaneously abolished. The foundations were given various purposes. Mistra, with its initial endowment assets of SEK 2.5 billion, has the function of supporting research of strategic importance in solving key environmental problems and contributing to Sweden’s competitiveness.

‘As a foundation, we have the freedom to choose how we set up our activities to meet our purposes’, explains Lars-Erik Liljelund, Mistra’s Chief Executive.

Besides the overarching Swedish Foundations Act, Mistra’s work is regulated by its own Statutes, drawn up in 1994. These impose a framework for conducting the work, managing the funds and following up the activities. Mistra’s Board is in charge of ensuring that work complies with the Statutes and is conducted in accordance with the Foundation’s purposes.

Absence of state control

Lars-Erik Liljelund thinks there have been some unclear points in media reports on public agencies and research foundations, and how they are governed.

‘I’ve been an agency head myself for some years and know that an agency’s work is much more strictly regulated. This is done partly by the Government Agencies Ordinance, which contains extensive rules, and partly by the Government’s budget appropriations and appropriation directions. But neither the Government nor the Riksdag can intervene to modify a foundation’s work. So great freedom is given but it is, of course, subject to great responsibility.’

He also points out that media reporting may give the impression that foundations, like public agencies, are continuously supported with tax revenues; but this is not the case. Mistra and other research foundations must manage their initial endowment assets successfully in order to fund their work. In Mistra’s case, the assets amounted to SEK 2.7 billion in 2011 and, since the start, SEK 3.1 billion has been disbursed for various research initiatives.

Freedom has been strengthened

‘The setting-up of foundations by the Riksdag was inspired by the aim of making them more autonomous, with a freer role than agencies. To boost this freedom further, not long ago, the Government gave the foundations even greater freedom in terms of filling the foundations’ boards, which was something the previous government had decided.’

However, one special feature of Mistra and the other research foundations set up by the state from 1994 is that they are also subject to the principle of public access and the Public Procurement Act. The research foundations are different from other foundations in that they do not have the county administrative board as their supervisory authority. Instead, under Mistra’s Statutes, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry are entitled to examine the Foundation’s work, and this has been done regularly over the years.

Mistra Webbredaktör