Troubled ministry under probe

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Norway’s Justice Ministry, badly hit by last summer’s terrorist attacks and suffering from low morale, now has another problem to deal with: Police have been called in to investigate how a long-time bureaucrat allegedly allocated more than NOK 4 million to various organizations through advertising purchases.

Grete Faremo, shown here when she was still Norway's defense minister, faces new challenges in her top role at the justice ministry. PHOTO: Forsvaret

News broke Thursday that a ministry employee had been suspended, after having bought around a million kroner worth of advertising in the publications or on the websites of around a dozen private organizations.

On Friday, Justice Minister Grete Faremo from the Labour Party revealed that the alleged and improper financial support dated back to 1998 and involved funding irregularities now believed to amount to NOK 4.3 million.

“We’re looking at this very seriously,” Faremo told reporters. She said that a company called Fakturaservice AS, which sells ads on behalf of private organizations, was involved in several of the cases. The head of Fakturaservice, Hans-Petter Tonum, denied any irregularities.

“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Tonum told Aftenposten.no. “I register that the justice minister has some opinions on how the person in the ministry has bought ads, but that’s a matter between them.”

Tonum said his firm merely took contact with the person they were told was responsible for buying advertising space, in this case for emergency services. He told Aftenposten.no there were no personal relations between the ministry employee and his firm. The organizations involved, including a national organization for persons hurt in traffic accidents, also claimed they were merely caught up in the alleged irregularities.

Stress and restructuring
The ad purchasing flap is the latest in a series of funding irregularities at other ministries and problems at the justice ministry itself. Employees were traumatized by the July 22 terrorist attacks, in which colleagues were killed and injured, and the ministry also was among those forced to move to new quarters after theirs were bombed. Aftenposten reported recently that sick leave among stressed employees has doubled in the past three months.

Meanwhile, they all received a new boss when Faremo took over for former Justice Minister Knut Storberget, who was exhausted. The ministry now faces a major reorganization to boost preparedness, and employees have complained they’re not being involved in the process. Last week, two highly respected veteran bureaucrats in the ministry resigned, leaving some employees in tears.

Faremo has been criticized for failing to keep employees informed of the changes going on and for making decisions that should be made by bureaucratic leadership, not political leadership. Faremo, however, referred to the resignations as “completely undramatic.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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