Safari tour lands MPs on defensive

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Four Norwegian Members of Parliament were fending off criticism on Friday after they ditched a session of the UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa and went off on a safari tour instead, while two others went on a tour of the city. Their sightseeing left just one colleague to follow climate negotiations.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) revealed on Friday that Gunnar Gundersen and Siri Meling of the Conservative Party, Oskar Grimstad of the Progress Party and Erling Sande of the Center Party decided it was more important to go on safari while in South Africa at taxpayer expense, than to remain with the Norwegian delegation of seven MPs at the UN climate conference.

Undermined own criticism
Their choice was all the more controversial because Gundersen had complained on national radio just that morning that Norway had sent a delegation to the climate talks that was too large. DN reported that Gundersen contributed towards reducing the delegation by visiting the Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Park instead.

All four MPs confirmed their excursion via text messages sent over their mobile phones, but argued that the safari was educational for them. “We wanted to see how South Africa organizes its national parks,” explained Sande. And both he and the others said they paid the cost of the safari tour themselves.

Meanwhile, website VG.no reported that their collective travels to South Africa, where they were to be among those representing Norway at the UN conference, cost around NOK 180,000 (USD 34,000). Snorre Valen, an MP for the Socialist Left party (SV) was left to represent Norway alone on Thursday, because the two other members — Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party (Venstre) and Marianne Marthinsen of the Labour Party — of the delegation went on a city sightseeing tour.

‘A lot to do here’
Asked why he didn’t go on safari, Valen told DN that “there’s a lot to do here (in the conference hall). I have assignments so the negotiators can do something other than sit in the hall.” He said he was learning a lot from the various speeches.

Erik Solheim, Norway’s environmental minister who was running from meeting to meeting at the conference, smiled when told of the safari tour. “I just note that an MP was critical there were too many people from the ministry, who are working very hard, while he has time for a safari,” Solheim told DN. “Safari is worthwhile, but then maybe he should be careful about criticizing others.”

Frederic Hauge, leader of environmental group Bellona, was also amazed that the MPs would go off on safari, especially one who was critical. Maybe he didn’t think he was needed. Hauge thinks there were other events they should have made a priority.

“It’s important that MPs are here,” Hauge told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “They have a role as representatives for Norway and can be influential.” Hauge added that Sunday was set aside as a day off, claiming that’s the day they should have chosen for the safari.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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