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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Auditor General slams state accounts

Opposition politicians are on the warpath while bureaucrats and government leaders are promising better control, after the state Auditor General (Riksrevisjonen) refused to approve government accounts totaling nearly NOK 300 billion.

The chief state accountants claim that welfare agency NAV especially is out of control.The Auditor General himself, Jørgen Kosmo, hails from the very political party his office is slamming: The Labour Party, which currently controls Norway’s recently re-elected three-party government coalition. Kosmo has been a former Defense Minister for Labour and served as president of the Norwegian Parliament before taking over his present role.

He had no mercy, however, for the Labour-led government, unveiling an audit late last week that gave several ministries poor marks for how they’re carrying out their work.

Welfare agency NAV, part of the Labour Ministry, came out worst. It’s been heavily criticized for months, since a reform of its operations hasn’t brought desired results. Kosmos’ auditors contend that billions of kroner worth of various welfare payments, from unemployment benefits to sick pay, are not subject to control mechanisms. Sick pay, child support payments and support for single parents are paid out often without proper documentation.

NAV staffers have bluffed about internal controls, claiming they were in place when the state auditors discovered they were not. “I wasn’t aware of that,” claimed a hard-pressed NAV chief Tor Sagli. Opposition politicians are calling for his resignation. He claims he’s staying put, to do a better job and deliver the services he’s promised earlier.

Neither the recent Labour and Health Minister, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen nor his successor, Dag Terje Andersen, would comment on the problems at NAV.

The Auditor General also uncovered many other cases of ministerial lack of control:

** The Transport Ministry under Liv Signe Navarsete hasn’t followed up on the breakdowns that repeatedly disrupt train service, and hasn’t imposed needed demands on state railroad Jernbaneverket .

** Former Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen was criticized, among other things, for her management of the huge state pension fund fed by oil revenues, known as the Oil Fund. The Auditor General also thinks the oil fund should no longer be administered through Norway’s central bank (Norges Bank) and should be its own judicial entity.

** Justice Minister Knut Storberget was criticized for not following up on creation of an emergency network for the police, fire and ambulance service.

** Former Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen was criticized once again for poor management of the military’s budgets, not least violations of purchasing regulations.



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