SSB chief agrees to severance package

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Christine Meyer, embattled boss at the chaos-ridden state statistics bureau SSB, has finally agreed to quit after an extraordinary and highly public power struggle with Norway’s finance minister, Siv Jensen. Meyer was stepping down as of midnight Sunday, with a severance pay package valued at up to NOK 1.4 million (USD 175,000).

Christine Meyer, shown here being interviewed on NRK Sunday night, has given up the helm at SSB after bitter conflicts with Finance Minister Siv Jensen and many others.  PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“There are three considerations I was concerned about with this agreement,” Meyer wrote in a press release late Sunday afternoon. “The most important was to get a quick clarification from the finance ministry to restore calm to SSB. Then I made some demands that there wouldn’t be any clauses that would have prevented me from speaking freely after the agreement was struck.

“The third consideration that’s been important for me is that in this agreement, there’s no impression that the finance ministry had reason to fire me.”

Meyer’s resignation comes after a battle of wills between herself and Jensen that was unprecedented in Norway. Jensen had made it clear that she no longer had faith in Meyer or how she was carrying out a controversial reorganization of SSB. Meyer, however, refused to quit, claiming she had only carried out a reorganization that was part of her mandate when she was hired for the top SSB job in 2015.

That left Jensen faced with having to fire her, which, since Meyer would contest a firing, was likely to have set off a lengthy, expensive and messy court case. In an interview on state broadcaster NRK’s nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen on Sunday, Meyer conceded that she broke all the rules in the book by not resigning immediately after Jensen declared her lack of confidence in her last Thursday.

“I know it was unusual,” Meyer told interviewer Nina Owing. “I think I could do that (be defiant and refuse to resign gracefully) because I could go back to my job as a professor (at management school NHH in Bergen).” In the end, both sides apparently wanted to avoid a lengthy legal battle.

Golden handshake, if somewhat tarnished
Thus the severance package, which will assure Meyer her current salary for the next six months including a “commuter” payment provision since Meyer’s home is in Bergen. She’ll also be paid the equivalent of her salary from June 1 to November 15, 2018, exluding the commuter pay provision and less any other income she receives over NOK 10,000.

Her moving costs back to Bergen will also be covered up to NOK 30,ooo, as will legal costs for her lawyer up to NOK 175,000.

As SSB’s chief executive, Meyer earned a salary of NOK 1.4 million a year (USD 175,000) plus NOK 200,o00 to cover commuter costs and the costs of having a home in Oslo as well as Bergen.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Meyer initially demanded two years’ worth of salary, while the state offered just six months. They settled on one year.

Successor unclear
There was no immediate word about who might replace Meyer at SSB, which has been in uproar over the reorganization that cut its research division by half and imposed new “publish or perish” rules on those allowed to continue in the research division. Since one of the researchers set to be transferred had specialized in putting together an accounting of how much immigrants cost the country, accusations flew that the reorganization had a political agenda. Meyer firmly denied that.

The reorganization has now been put on hold, pending results of a state commission’s evaluation of how SSB functions. SSB is an important institution in Norway, often described as the agency that “writes Norway’s history” based on its ongoing accumulation of facts and figures. Jensen’s job now is to calm everyone down and get them back to work.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund