Ministries struggle to meet demands

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The Norwegian government continues to work under makeshift and difficult conditions after its headquarters was bombed on July 22. Many workers still lack offices and equipment and some key staff members are working from home, but preparation of the state budget is on track and will be presented on schedule October 6.

Norway's government complex was heavily damaged by a bomb on July 22, creating huge challenges for workers in most ministries. At right, the Finance Ministry, where staff has been moving back in to repaired offices. PHOTO: Views and News

Norway’s Finance Ministry was among top government offices damaged in the attack by a right-wing extremist protesting the government’s allowance of a multi-cultural society. Windows were blown out and the office of Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen was destroyed along with those of several other top ministers including Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

Johnsen has carried on budget meetings with staff members, though, mostly from temporary offices in the state tax directorate at Tøyen. Now he and his colleagues have been moving back into their historic old building on Akersgata.

“We’re still all bothered by this (the attacks),” Johnsen told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. “I want to thank everyone who has helped get the budget ready for the government conference (earlier this week). It was an impressive effort.”

This is what one side of the Supreme Court building looked like, two days after the explosion. PHOTO: Views and News

Most ministries have had what Espen Aasen, who leads the secretariat that has collected, controlled and analyzed the various ministry budgets, called “a very difficult work situation.” The Finance Ministry had the highest priority to get the entire government back on track, reported Aftenposten. Computer equipment was removed and cleaned to get rid of glass and dust, windows replaced, offices put back in order. Johnsen even got back his favorite chair, which survived the blast.

“The situation is by no means normal,” said administrative chief Heidi Heggenes. “Many of us are affected. At the same time, we’re stressing a bit less and many have become much better acquainted with their colleagues.”

Other ministries are in worse shape, including the Ministry for Trade and Industry, which suffered heavy damage when the car bomb exploded just across the street. Eleven employees were injured and around 130 of the ministry’s 200 employees still had no offices as of late last week, reported Aftenposten. Henrik Hoel, who deals with maritime issues, is among those working mostly from home. He thinks he’s almost as productive, with some delays.

Many workers in other ministries also lost not only their offices and some colleagues but also their computers, their phones, their files and both personal and professional belongings, important if seemingly mundane items needed to get the job done. Many have not been allowed back into their damaged workplaces, including workers in the Labour Ministry. This has, not surprisingly, created delays in many government reports and measures. Proposals to make the health care system more efficient, streamline the state and township bureaucracy and improve welfare payment systems will be delayed, as is a long-awaited measure on reduction of carbon emissions.

“This has been very demanding, but we find solutions from day to day,” said Ellen Seip of the Labour Ministry.

The Ministry of Education, meawhile, is spread over six different locations in Oslo. “We have put priority on the most important issues, otherwise we need to adapt to the reality of our work situation,” Trond Fevolden of the ministry told Aftenposten.

Time also has been used to talk about what happened on July 22, console and take care of each other. Fevolden said they sometimes refer to themselves now as “the ministry of hugs.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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