Norway’s foreign ministry is facing questions from the Parliament’s disciplinary committee regarding NOK 24 million in funding granted unusually quickly in 2011 to a newly formed private institute, ILPI, co-owned by a former ministry employee. The payouts were made when the former Labour Party-led government was still in power and ran the ministry, but Foreign Minister Børge Brende of the Conservative Party is left to deal with what commentators are calling a rising scandal.
The payments to the privately owned International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI), disclosed in a recent series of articles in newspaper VG, were part of funding for an ILPI project that was to involve disarmament work and research. The money was allocated by UD just four days after an application for the funding arrived from Gro Nystuen, a former director at the ministry who is one of three owners of ILPI.
The other two owners of ILPI are Kjetil Tronvoll, a professor of social anthropology in Oslo, and Njål Høstmælingen, a lawyer who has worked extensively with human rights issues. All told, reported VG, ILPI has received NOK 152 million from the foreign ministry since it was established in 2009.
Newspaper commentators have written this week that VG‘s disclosures of how contracts were entered into between ILPI and the ministry, and close ties between those behind ILPI and the ministry, have made for “shocking” reading. The three owners have also withdrawn dividends and paid themselves high salaries, allegedly using what one professor has already called a “straw clearly thrust deep down into the state treasury.” Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized this week that not only must the Parliament call for an investigation, the state Auditor General (Riksrevisjon) should examine the ILPI funding as well.
NOK 24 million granted within four days
Brende has ordered an immediate internal investigation into the circumstances behind a specific payment of NOK 24 million made to ILPI in 2011. VG reported late last week that the application for funding from Nystuen was sent on March 11 and approved at a meeting of the management of the ministry’s division for disarmament and non-proliferation on March 15. The deadline for applications for the funding the ministry had offered was set for April 29, a month-and-a-half later.
ILPI’s leaders and co-owners have defended their work in responses to VG‘s articles and claimed they are “proud” of contributing to efforts for a world free of nuclear weapons. Høstmælingen had little if any comment on how the ministry went about approving ILPI’s funding request that resulted in the NOK 24 million grant, or the investigation launched into it. “As far as we understand, this case has to do with the internal processes at the ministry, and we have no opportunity to comment on that,” ILPI manager and co-owner Høstmælingen told VG.
Brende said he wants a “full examination” conducted by the ministry’s main monitoring entity (Sentral kontrollenhet) “of all aspects of this concrete funding allocation.” He said he was taking the questions raised about it “extremely seriously.” He acknowledged that the case involved “large amounts” of money and “short processing time.” Dagsavisen claimed the internal examination wasn’t enough, since the Sentral kontrollenhet reportedly brushed aside concerns brought up earlier by a ministry whistleblower.
Brende has also demanded a full briefing on what the auditors uncover along with an evaluation to be given to both him and the administrative chief of the ministry, Wegger Chr Strømmen. Brende has further cracked down on who can approve large allocations of funds to “commercial players” like ILPI, telling both VG and state broadcaster NRK that all such allocations will now need to go through the office of the ministry’s top administrator (utenriksråd, currently Wegger).
Asked whether the ministry now fears that funding has been granted based on personal relations and close ties with those at ILPI, Brende said he didn’t want “to draw any conclusions now, but it’s not often I ask the central monitoring entity to examine a case. I have not done this before (since he took over as foreign minister in 2013). But there are a lot of questions here that I think it’s important to get a full examination.”
Now the parliamentary committee is asking questions as well. The news of the questionable funding to ILPI, which some suggest has lived off both the foreign ministry and Norway’s development agency Norad, comes at a time when Norway’s foreign aid budget has been boosted.
Brende conceded that funding allocations to commercial players have been made “much too uncritically. In general, I must say we need more concrete and measurable contributions on the ground,” like schooling for poor children, vaccinations and humanitarian aid for refugees. “I have sent a clear message internally in the ministry that there must be fewer studies, seminars and consulting fees paid for with foreign aid funding,” Brende said. He said the minstry’s budget for use of external consultants has been cut from NOK 143 million in 2013 to NOK 92 million in the new proposed budget for 2017.