UPDATED: Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has called on one of his government ministers outside his own Labour Party, Bård Vegar Solhjell, to sort out a conflict involving the state-owned company in charge of state real estate, Entra Eiendom. On Monday Solhjell answered calls to act quickly, and he fired half of Entra’s board of directors.
Solhjell did not reverse the controversial appointment, at a high salary, of a new chief executive at Entra who’s an old friend of Labour’s Trade Minister Trond Giske. Giske has insisted he had nothing to do with the appointment of Rune Olsø at a salary of nearly NOK 4 million, and has declared himself inhabil (caught in a conflict of interest).
The appointment, moreover, was opposed by the chairman of Entra’s board, Siri Hatlen, and two of its professional board members. It was only narrowly approved by the four others on the board, two of whom either had personal ties to Olsø or the Labour Party and two of whom represent Entra employees. Hatlen and one of her fellow board members survived Solhjell’s purge on Monday, as did the two members representing employees.
Olsø’s fate remained unclear Monday night, and it’s still possible he won’t get to keep the chief executive’s role. “It’s absolutely intolerable that the company now has a CEO that its chairman doesn’t want,” Svein Flåtten of the opposition Conservative Party told newspaper Dagsavisen.
Stoltenberg has denied charges of camaraderie and partisanship, but took the step of appointing Sohjell of the Socialist Left party (SV), who otherwise serves as government minister in charge of the environment, to resolve the conflict.
Also at issue is the high executive pay that’s supposed to be opposed by the Labour Party but which Giske has failed to lower, even though he, as government minister for business and trade, is ultimately in charge of the boards that run companies in which the state has a major stake. Giske has also faced harsh criticism from within his own party for failing to order the boards to reduce pay levels.