Trade minister draws more flak

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Trond Giske, Norway’s government minister in charge of business and trade, has stirred up criticism in recent years for controversial appointments he’s made to the boards of state-owned companies. He set off more howls of protest this week, when he suddenly replaced the well-regarded chairman of former mining firm Kings Bay.

Trond Giske was fending off more critics this week for replacing the chairman of a state-controlled company with someone of his choice. PHOTO: Næringsdepartementet/Morten Krogvold

Trond Giske was fending off more critics this week for replacing the chairman of a state-controlled company with someone of his choice. PHOTO: Næringsdepartementet/Morten Krogvold

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported early Tuesday morning that Giske was planning to replace Kings Bay chairman Knut Ore with none other than his Labour Party colleague Hill-Marta Solberg. That kind of cronyism has gotten Giske into trouble before, and he had to explain himself in Parliament as late as last winter after he’d allegedly appointed allies to boards of such firms as Entra Eiendom, Telenor and Kongsberg Gruppen.

Kings Bay, a former mining firm that now conducts Arctic research, has been under the leadership of Ore for several years and he was in the midst of his latest term on the board when Giske decided to replace him. Since the state controls Kings Bay, Giske as trade minister has the right to make such personnel changes.

He perhaps hadn’t expected the outcry from fellow board members and, not least, the media when word leaked out that his fellow Labour Party veteran Solberg, a former government minister herself, was his candidate. Speculation immediately rose that Giske was trying to place Labour Party officials in important posts while he and the party still hold government power. Public opinion polls suggest Norway’s Labour-led government will be replaced itself by a non-socialist coalition after the September 9 election.

Business news website E24 also reported that “central persons” had confirmed that Solberg was tapped for the post, but by late afternoon, Giske had another plan. Ore would still be replaced but by the head of research organization Sintef, not Solberg.

Opposition politicians were calling on Wednesday for Giske to disclose exactly when he changed his mind about Solberg. NRK reported that Giske did so because of the criticism over another party posting. Siri Kalvik, a high-profile entrepreneur in Norway who founded the Storm weather service, resigned her own seat on Kings Bay’s board in protest over Giske’s “unfortunate” maneuvering, claiming that Ore had done a “fantastic” job and should have been allowed to continue.

Giske dismissed the criticism as he usually does, telling TV2 that Kings Bay’s chairman had held the post for 11 years, “longer than anyone else,” and “the time was ripe for a change.” He also said he thought it was “sad” that Kalvik resigned.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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