Critics blast trade minister again

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Trond Giske, Norway’s government minister in charge of business and trade, is facing more harsh criticism for allegedly meddling in the appointments of directors at companies in which the state has major stakes. It’s more bad news for the left-center government coalition that already seems to be struggling to survive.

Trade Minister Trond Giske is in more trouble over apparent efforts to place allies in powerful positions. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The new barrage of criticism from opposition politicians and some legal experts comes just after Giske, from the Labour Party, got in trouble over a controversial executive appointment at Entra Eiendom, the state-owned firm in charge of state real estate. The appointment involved an old friend of Giske’s, and Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg felt compelled to appoint another of his ministers from outside the Labour Party to deal with the situation since Giske was caught in a conflict of interest. Half of Entra’s board of directors ended up being replaced and the executive resigned.

Conflicts of interest are also involved in the new criticism, which comes after TV2 reported that Giske wanted to place another old friend, Labour Mayor Tore O Sandvik of Sør-Trøndelag, on the board of the large state-controlled telecoms firm Telenor. Giske has denied pressuring Telenor’s elections committee into nominating Sandvik and initially called TV2’s report “nonsense,” but it ignited the opposition in Parliament once again and they’re demanding more details and answers.

On Monday night came reports that Giske also used his connections to place Roar Flåthen, the leader of power trade union federation LO, on the board of the industrial firm Kongsberg Gruppen. Sverre Valvik, leader of the elections committee for Kongsberg, told TV2 that it had received “many proposals from shareholders” for seats on the board and that “one of them came from the Ministry for Business and Trade. This one was that Roar Flåthen should be elected” to the board.

None of the existing board members was up for re-election, though, and the committee wasn’t looking for new members, reported TV2. In the end, the board created a new position as varamedlem (alternate member) and it was given to Flåthen, with annual pay of NOK 195,000 (around USD 33,000). Flåthen will have no voting rights on the board, but be allowed to attend meetings.

One expert on the legal aspects of state ownership, Professor Beate Sjåfjell of the University of Oslo, told newspaper Dagsavisen that Giske may have broken the law in securing the trade union boss a spot on Kongsberg’s board, if it was meant to compensate Flåthen and LO for its longtime support for the Labour Party. Opposition politicians, meanwhile,  are furious.

“This reeks of a lack of professionalism, in all these cases that Giske is involved in,” Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservative Party (Høyre) told Dagsavisen. At the very least, according to opposition politicians, it appears that Giske once again has used his vast network and powerful position to secure lucrative positions for friends and acquaintances.

“This is most unfortunate, given the financial donations LO has given to the Labour Party in every election,” Harald T Nesvik of the Progress Party told news bureau NTB. “This (Kongsberg) case is very curious and strange.”

Giske continues to deny any wrongdoing and called the appointment of Flåthen “a good solution.” He considers Flåthen “an excellent resource” for the board of Kongsberg and claimed the rush in getting Flåthen on the board was part of a “long-term evaluation of what kind of competence the company needs in the years ahead.” There was no mention that Labour might not be in a position to make such appointments if it loses the national election next year.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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