Oil Minister Tord Lien and Foreign Minister Børge Brende both face more questioning by the Parliament’s disciplinary committee over Statoil’s controversial operations in Angola. The committee wants to know what happened to NOK 420 million Statoil paid to finance construction of a research center that’s never been built.
Norwegian media reported over the weekend that the parliament’s Kontroll- og konstitusjon committee is not at all satisfied with the answers it received from Lien last week regarding the huge sums Statoil has paid to authorities in Angola in order to operate an offshore oil field. Angola ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and neither Lien nor Statoil has accounted for money paid as part of Statoil’s contractural obligations.
New corruption concerns, simmering for the past two years, have thus reached the boiling point. Statoil itself also refuses to clarify which “social projects” in Angola have benefited from an additional NOK 295 million paid in to Angolan state-owned oil firm Sonangol. All told, Statoil has paid around NOK 715 million (around USD 1oo million given exchange rates at the time) in “social contributions” to Angola.
Not only is Statoil unable to account for the NOK 420 million it paid in for the so-called research center, company officials can’t (or won’t) account for the social projects it also was supposed to have funded over the past five years.
“We report openly about our payments, and we have replied to the Oil and Energy Ministry about how we have secured that these payments are in line with anti-corruption laws,” Bård Glad Pedersen, Statoil’s information director, wrote to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “It is not natural for us to comment on this further, when the committee has sent a new letter with questions to the ministry. We are communicating with the ministry and we will also … answer more completely if the ministry wants more information from us.”
Committee member Jette Christiansen, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party, said it “was not acceptable” for Statoil “to use the control committee as an excuse not to answer uncomfortable questions from the press. This is a matter of public interest. Statoil is a company that to a large degree manages our common assets. Here it’s received another question than what we’ve posed.” She called Statoil’s information tactics “strange.”
MP Michael Tetzschner of the Conservative Party, deputy leader of the committee, agrees with Christiansen, saying Statoil had not been freed from informing about its operation and answering questions from the media.
“Statoil has to justify its silence towards the press in another way than referring to the controll committee,” Tetzschner told DN. Glad Pedersen claimed Statoil was not using the committee as an excuse for not answering DN’s questions. but sees the money for the research center and the social projects as a whole and won’t differentiate, insisting it must answer to Lien first. Lien is likely to pass on the committee’s additional questions to Statoil before his staff formulates his own response.
Meanwhile his ministerial colleague Børge Brende of the Conservative Party is also in the hot seat. The committee has demanded answers from him, too, over how his ministry is monitoring Norwegian operations in Angola, after a critical report about Norwegian aid to the country’s own oil ministry through a development program. Transparency International, meanwhile, ranks Angola as the fifth most-corrupt country in the world.