Justice Minister Anders Anundsen was back in the news at the end of what already had been a tough week for the Progress Party politician. A state auditor’s report charging that his ministry has failed to improve emergency preparedness left even his government’s support parties fuming, but Prime Minister Erna Solberg was standing by him.
Just two days after Anundsen survived a severe scolding in the Parliament, he was forced to fend off another torrent of criticism from opposition and support politicians alike. It came after the state auditor general (Riksrevisor) Per-Kristian Foss revealed “serious weaknesses” in the ministry’s work to lead and coordinate the country’s preparedness for terrorist attacks or other major emergencies.
Foss’ auditing team at Riksrevisjonen reported that the ministry that now even includes the word “preparedness” in its official name, hasn’t managed to take a leadership role in the work and hasn’t followed up the work of other public entities. Lines of responsibility among various state agencies are unclear, according to the state auditors, and there hasn’t been enough systematic evaluation and follow-up after exercises and incidents.
The list went on, with the auditors concluding that “several of these weaknesses have continued over time. All told, this is serious and contributes towards weakening the word to enhance security.”
The report couldn’t have been easy to deliver for Foss, who assumed his new impartial role as state auditor general after retiring in 2013 from many years of serving as a Member of Parliament and a minister himself for the Conservative Party, which leads the government coalition in which Anundsen sits. He sat in opposition, as did Anundsen, when the scathing report was issued in 2012 that highlighted Norway’s woeful lack of preparedness for the attacks on the then-Labour-led government and Labour’s youth camp on July 22, 2011. Both Foss and Anundsen were then part of the critics blasting the embarrassingly poor response to the attacks. Now the tables have turned, and Foss had to report that not much has improved.
His criticism of the government his own party leads was as scathing as it was three years ago: “What’s serious is that two justice ministries in a row have promised, since the tragedy of July 22, that everything would get so much better,” Foss told newspaper Aftenposten. “We see little trace of that.” Neither the former justice ministers for Labour, Knut Storberget and his successor, Grete Faremo, nor Anundsen have fulfilled the promises made, according to the auditors.
Anundsen said he wasn’t surprised by the criticism and even agreed with much of it. He said the auditors’ report “describes a reality that was correct when (work on the report) was concluded,” and that it points to problems “that stem from long ago.” He claimed, though, that his ministry has put in motion several measures to improve preparedness during the 19 months since he took office. Some of them, he said, are bearing fruit and he expects to see results of others soon. He doesn’t agree there are “serious weaknesses,” and neither does Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, who continued to support her justice minister on Friday.
Solberg has called him a “pillar” of her government and sent out a message on social media that she doesn’t agree with the criticism of Anundsen. “The criticism is directed at areas where we already last year made changes in working methods,” she wrote.
Opposition politicians were calling for Anundsen’s resignation again, though, and even high-profile Members of Parliament from the government’s support parties were blasting both Anundsen and his response to the auditors’ criticism. “It’s shocking,” said Abid Raja of the Liberal Party, which otherwise helps the minority government coalition secure a majority in Parliament. “This is so serious that I will demand a full hearing in the control (disciplinary) committee. We can’t live with this. What’s at issue here is that the Progress Party, which profiles itself as a law-and-order party, has flunked on this.”
Jette Christiansen of the Labour Party, who sits on that committee, claimed Anundsen was displaying “zero humility or understanding. How long shall he be allowed to continue?”
Anundsen said he wasn’t surprised by Christiansen’s criticism: “She has expressed a lack of confidence in me several times.” As for the prospect of being called into a disciplinary hearing , he would then find himself in the same position he put former ministers from Christiansen’s party in nearly three years ago. The tables have turned, and Anundsen seems intent on retaining his current seat.