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Why Norway's government is facing scrutiny over conflict of interest cases

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
Why Norway's government is facing scrutiny over conflict of interest cases
Norway's governemnt will face parliamentary scrutiny over its handling of a number of recent scandals. File photo Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store attends a press conference after the meeting of Prime Ministers and Heads of government during the 74th Ordinary Session of the Nordic Council in Helsinki, Finland, (Photo by Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva / AFP)

The Norwegian government faces a probe from parliament over its handling of a series of high profile conflict of interest incidents involving its ministers. 

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A majority on the Norwegian parliament's disciplinary committee has decided that a probe should be launched into how the government has handled three conflict of interest scandals involving its ministers. 

"This is a very unfortunate case that affects trust in political processes. It is not a desired situation for any party, but it is important that the control committee does our job thoroughly now," the head of the Norwegian parliament's control and constitution committee, Peter Frølich, said. 

Over the past six weeks, former culture minister Anette Trettebergstuen, current education minister Tonje Brenna and former higher education and research minister Ola Borten Moe have been involved in conflict of interest scandals. 

As a result, both Moe and Trettebergstuen have stepped down from their ministerial roles, while Labour deputy leader and Minister of Education Brenna has remained in her post. 

Brenna and Trettebergstuen were revealed to have given jobs to friends and acquaintances. Both were found to have been inhabil, the Norwegian word used to describe when someone is partial towards someone else and can thus not act objectively and make merit-based decisions. 

Trettebergstuen resigned, while Brenna did not, because Trettebergstuen's breach of the conduct rules was deemed to be in "another category" to Brenna's, Norway's PM said in late June. 

Moe broke ministerial conduct and ethics rules by purchasing shares in companies which the government had a interest in and attending government meetings at which major contracts with companies were discussed. 

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"This is an incredibly embarrassing situation, (and) a serious situation," Moe told public broadcaster NRK last week. 

Norway's economic crime unit, Økokrim, has said it will look into whether Moe's purchase of stocks and shares while minister requires a full investigation. 

The Norwegian government will face scrutiny over its handling of the matters as opposition parties have yet to be convinced by the answers they've received to questions relating to the individual incidents. 

Frølich said that the probe is necessary to ensure that there were no systematic errors being made by the government, which has led to the repeated incidents.

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Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has said that the government will provide full transparency during the probe. 

"The Storting's (Norway's parliament) control and constitutional committee has a very important function in our democracy, and I can assure you that the government will stand up and answer the questions that the committee has, both about the cases and about rules and guidelines," he told Norwegian newswire NTB. 

"As politicians, we 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," Støre added. 

When Trettebergstuen resigned earlier in the summer, Støre told the Norwegian press that ministers received instructions and underwent reviews with administrators and must take self-responsibility in evaluating their impartiality on a case-by-case basis. 

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