Corruption seen in Norway’s government

Three ministers of parliament admit to breaking impartiality rules; two resign

borten moe

Photo: Tor Erik Schrøder / NTB
Ola Borten Moe holds a press conference after it became known that he had breached the rules of impartiality as minister of research and higher education.

In late July, the Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs at the Stor­ting unanimously decided to investigate the government’s handling of integrity matters. The background is three cases of impartiality breaches among ministers of parliament this summer.

“This is a very unfortunate matter that affects trust in political processes. It is not a desired situation for any party, but it is important that the control committee now does a thorough job,” said Peter Frølich (Conservative Party), chair of the committee.

The committee first met on July 27 to discuss the competency cases surrounding Minister of Education Tonje Brenna (Labor Party), former Minister of Culture and Equality Anette Trettebergstuen (Labor Party) and former Minister of Research and Higher Education Ola Borten Moe (Center Party).

During the summer, all three admitted to violating the rules of impartiality.

“This case is one of the most obvious scrutiny cases in many years. One case was serious enough, and three in a row makes it necessary to check for systemic errors within the government,” said Frølich.

Background

Brenna admitted on June 20 to breaking the government’s ethics rules by appointing a friend to a board position in the Wergeland Center, a foundation that is largely financed by the Ministry of Education. The foundation has invoiced Utøya AS, where three board members are close friends of Brenna. One of them is Brenna’s ex-partner Martin Henriksen, with whom she has a child. Brenna has not resigned as education minister as a result of the case.

Trettebergstuen resigned as Minister of Culture and Equality in Jonas Gahr Støre’s government on June 23 after she admitted two days earlier to breaking the rules of competence by appointing friends to important posts. One of the friends was godparent to Trettebergstuen’s son. Trettebergstuen is also godparent to the child of a friend she suggested for a position.

Moe admitted on July 21 to breaking the government’s integrity rules by purchasing shares in the arms and technology group Kongsberg Gruppen. The breach is said to have occurred in January when he attended a government meeting regarding a multibillion-dollar contract for the ammunition manufacturer Nammo. He later bought shares for over NOK 400,000 in Kongsberg Gruppen, which is illegal. Moe resigned as minister on July 21.

Støre’s role

Frølich warns that Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor Party) will also be included in the investigation.

“Has Støre provided good guidance, good culture, and good practice of the rules? These are questions that are natural to ask in the further proceedings,” he said.

In an email to NTB, Støre commented, “The Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs has a very important function in our democracy, and I can assure you that the government will stand up and answer the questions of the committee, both about the cases and about the rules and guidelines.”

Full transparency has been the government’s attitude in these latest cases, he added.

“Everyone wants to be open and contribute all the information that the Storting asks for. We politicians are completely dependent on trust. People must be able to trust that the government’s decisions are impartial and taken on behalf of the community. There can be no doubt about that,” said the prime minister.

Proposed measures

Leader of the Conservative Party Erna Solberg has four proposals to make the shareholder rules for politicians clearer. Støre says a review of the shareholder rules is already underway.

“From my side, it is quite clear that buying and selling shares and speculating to make money as an investor does is completely out of the question if you are in government,” said the prime minister to E24.

Solberg has come up with proposals to clarify existing rules, and to add new ones.

“As a high-level politician, you have to be extra careful if you have to manage money at the same time,” said Solberg to E24.

She suggests four measures:

  • Obligation for politicians at the national level to register the purchase and sale of shares on a continuous basis.
  • State secretaries and political advisers must report owned stocks to the Storting.
  • Ministers, state secretaries, and political advisers have the choice between selling or freezing their stocks upon taking office. Purchases and sales shall only take place exceptionally and with permission from the prime minister’s office.
  • Storting representatives and their political advisers must also be prohibited from buying and selling shares in cases where they participate in political processes or have knowledge that may be price sensitive for industries and individual companies.

“I think that the proposals put forward by the Conservative Party act as a clarification of the existing regulations. It is an important discussion, and I am open to all input,” said Støre.

This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB

NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway