Welfare boss fired after huge losses

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The boss of Norway’s huge social welfare and employment agency NAV was relieved of his duties on Friday after more criticism of NAV’s operations. NAV director Joakim Lystad will be retained as a “special adviser,” though, and keep his million-kroner state salary and benefits.

NAV director Joakim Lystad had to leave his post as head of the state welfare and employment agency on Friday. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet

NAV director Joakim Lystad had to leave his post as head of the state welfare and employment agency on Friday. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet

Labour Minister Robert Eriksson of the Progress Party, who has political responsibility for NAV, “wants new leadership of NAV, and Joakim Lystad is therefore giving up his post,” read a press release from the labour ministry. Lystad led NAV since 2010 and before that was the head of state food safety agency Mattilsynet.

Eriksson faced immediate criticism over the terms of Lystad’s departure, with state broadcaster NRK noting how the Progress Party itself criticized such lucrative and protective severance agreements when it was in opposition. Now it holds government power and has succumbed to the practice itself, but Eriksson claimed he couldn’t comment further on the terms of Lystad’s termination as NAV director.

NAV has been a troubled agency since its formation in 2006,  following an earlier conservative government’s decision to merge state welfare and unemployment services. The result was the creation of a huge bureaucratic institution, responsible for everything from administering pensions to handling claims for welfare payments such as sick leave, maternity and paternity benefits and unemployment compensation. Nearly 10 years later the agency is still struggling to streamline its operations and coordinate its various information technology systems.

The latter has been especially problematic and Lystad has been on the defensive since news broke that NAV has wasted at least NOK 110 million of its public funding on unsuccessful information technology projects. Lystad was called in for questioning by the Parliament’s auditing and disciplinary officials and caught more criticism when he admitted he couldn’t explain why the projects failed to sort out NAV’s problems.

On Thursday, more trouble arose when an expert group reviewing NAV’s operations stated that NAV lacked ability to get unemployed Norwegians back to work. NAV was said to concentrate too much on paying out benefits instead of finding new jobs for those who are unemployed. NAV’s systems have also been criticized as being far too complicated and inefficient. One recommendation calls for a reduction in the number of NAV offices around the country, with beefed-up staffing and competence in those that will remain open.

Lystad himself told NRK he would have gladly continued as NAV director, but followed the labour minister’s wishes. “Therefore I’m quitting today,” he said. “I will begin in the new job on Monday.” Lystad’s duties will be assumed by economist Kersti Monland, who also was named to take over NAV’s deeply troubled information technology division last fall. She will serve as acting director of NAV until a new director is appointed.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund