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July 22 grilling begins in parliament

They’re billed as the most important and comprehensive special hearings to be held in the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) for many years. The first of five sessions that will question top politicians, public servants and government officials about what went wrong both before and on July 22 last year was getting underway on Tuesday, as the soul searching after last year’s terrorist attacks continues.

The special parliamentary hearings into what went wrong on July 22 last year are the most comprehensive to be held in Norway for more than a decade. PHOTO:

The goal of what’s officially called Høring om 22. juli (The Hearing on July 22) is to get a grip on where the responsibility for preparedness lies, according to the Member of Parliament (MP) from the small Christian Democrats party who will lead the questioning, Geir Bekkevold.

“When you read the report from the (government-appointed) July 22 Commission (which probed what went wrong before, during and after the attacks), it looks like people are pre-occupied with blaming someone else,” Bekkevold told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We need to dig deeper and see who has held responsibility and how it was handled, if we hope to learn anything from all this.”

The head of the July 22 Commission, lawyer Alexandra Bech Gjørv, was among the first to be questioned on Tuesday, along with the head of the national support group for survivors of the attacks, Trond Blattmann, and a representative of the volunteers who desperately tried to save terrified youngsters who were caught in the terrorist’s massacre on the island of Utøya in the Tyrifjord.

“We’re very glad to be included, that they (the Members of Parliament) want to listen to us,” Blattmann told news bureau NTB. “It means our voices are important.”

Geir Bekkevold, a Member of Parliament for the Christian Democrats party, will lead the special July 22 hearings. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Hildegunn Bernsen

The other four hearings will be held on Monday Nov 12, Friday Nov 16, Monday Nov 19 and Monday Nov 26. Among those called in for questioning are former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Justice Minister Odd Einar Dørum, to gather information on how their administrations handled concerns as early as the late 1990s and early 2000s over what government officials were doing to prepare for possible terrorist attacks.

Top military, intelligence, police and defense officials have also been called in for questioning, as have officials from the City of Oslo and current government ministers including Justice Minister Grete Faremo and Prime Minister Jens Stoltetnberg, both of whom will be the last persons to be grilled by the parliamentary committee that handles control and constitutional issues and is widely seen as the disciplinary arm of the Parliament.

The committee is comprised of MPs from all the parties represented in Parliament and therefore is theoretically non-partisan. Members from the Labour Party, which leads Norway’s coalition government, have already claimed they won’t try to protect their “own” ministers. Martin Kolberg, an MP who formerly was the powerful secretary (administrative boss) of Labour, stressed that Labour also wants the truth to come out and that no one, including top officials appointed by Labour, will be shielded.

The non-socialist coalition government that held power before the current Labour-led government won’t be shielded either. Reports earlier this autumn suggested that Dørum, the former justice minister from the Liberal Party, fought long, hard and mostly alone to set up a digital emergency communications network for the police but was allegedly stymied by his government partner from the Conservatives, Per-Kristian Foss, who was finance minister at the time and worried about the network’s costs. “Anything that cost money was stopped by Foss,” the leader of Norway’s main police union, Arne Johannessen, told newspaper Aftenposten. Now Foss and his Conservative colleagues also look set to be held accountable for what they did or didn’t do to enhance Norway’s preparedness themselves.

Progress Party’s unique position
The committee itself is headed by an MP, Anders Anundsen, from the only major party that’s never held government power in Norway, the Progress Party. It can thus seemingly absolve itself of responsibility for the country’s lack of terror preparedness, while grilling officials from parties that have sat in governments both on the right- and left sides of Norwegian politics. They include top Conservative MPs such as Erna Solberg, for example, who sat in Bondevik’s government before Stoltenberg’s took over in 2005 and who now figures prominently in whether the Progress Party might finally have a chance at securing government power after next year’s election. The investigation into what went wrong on July 22 last year offers at any rate an opportunity for the Progress Party to challenge others who had the responsibility it has never had.

Bekkevold, though, cautions that any attempt to use the special hearings for political gain would be inappropriate and could quickly backfire.

“The terrorist attacks themselves, which struck the entire nation, demands that we find the right answers so we can learn and move forward,” Bekkevold told Dagsavisen. Together, he suggested, not divided by party politics.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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