Minister in trouble over gift

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Cabinet minister Liv Signe Navarsete has plunged her government into more hot water, for accepting an expensive gift from a major offshore company while she was transport minister in 2006. She has apologized, but it’s believed Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is irritated over this latest embarrassment.

Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete (left) as embarrassed her government colleagues Jens Stoltenberg and Kristin Halvorsen, but has apologized. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Navarsete is one of the three party leaders heading up the left-center coalition government. She hails from the small but often noisy Center Party, which champions the interests of Norway’s rural districts often at the expense of its cities.

On Wednesday, her characteristic dialect from Sogn og Fjordane could be heard on national radio as she apologized for overlooking her own government’s rules on accepting gifts and hoped she’d be forgiven. The rules have just been tightened, following controversy in recent days over other ministers’ gifts.

She failed to report the gift of a gold bracelet valued at NOK 26,500 (about USD 4,400) from shipbuilding firm Aker Yards to the Parliament, as required. She accepted the gift from Aker Yards, controlled by the controversial industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke, for serving as godmother for a vessel built by the yard.

Navarsete tried to explain her acceptance of the gift by claiming there’s a long tradition for christening gifts in Western Norway, where she’s from. “That meant I didn’t have sharp enough antennas, that I shouldn’t have accepted the gift,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I should have thought about it, but I didn’t.”

What’s sparked the most criticism, though, is her failure to report the gift, even after Stoltenberg asked all government members to register any gifts they’d received last winter.

Stoltenberg reportedly has accepted Navarsete’s apology, but political observers think he’s “probably extremely irritated,” because, as Aftenposten’s political editor wrote, this is just the latest in a long line of troubles that aren’t about politics but about how issues are handled. Another commentator called it “yet another accident for the government.”

Navarsete continued to beg Stoltenberg’s pardon, and that of the voters. “Politics is based on confidence, and I have worked hard during my five years as a minister,” she told NRK. “I hope I can continue with that. I don’t know what consequences this will have, but I hope we live in a world where it’s possible to ask for forgiveness.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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