All the members of the Norwegian Parliament’s disciplinary committee expressed the strongest possible criticism on Friday of how their president botched a major construction project. Olemic Thommessen of the Conservative Party, whose position ranks second only to the monarch’s, nonetheless avoided being fired.
Two leading members of Parliament, Per Olaf Lundteigen of the Center Party and Bård Vegar Solhjell of the Socialist Left party (SV), have called on Thommessen to resign. They failed to drum up enough support from other parties, however. The Parliament is, after all, on the verge of recessing for the summer and also faces major changes after the upcoming September election, when the presidency will be open for replacement anyway.
Even though Lundteigen’s and Solhjell’s calls for expressing a lack of confidence in Thommessen were unsuccessful, the Parliament’s Kontroll- og konstitusjonskomiteen issued the strongest possible criticism of his work without demanding his resignation.
“The committee refers to how responsibility for the cost overruns (of the ill-fated construction project) lie with the owner, which in this case is Stortingets presidentskap (The Office of the President of the Parliament),” the committee wrote. Its leader, Martin Kolberg of the Labour Party, said the president (Thommessen) also failed to inform the Parliament of the problems as they arose. Nor was his office or the Parliament well-enough organized to follow up the building project.
Asked whether those in leadership positions should be subject to personal consequences, Kolberg answered “Not necessarily, as we judge it. The most important thing now is that the Parliament clean this up and portray the necessary humility.”
Thommessen is not known for being humble and he has resisted and contested a damning report on the building project fiasco from the State Auditor General. He has also defied a reprimand but did show more humility on Norway’s national nightly newscast Dagsrevyen on the eve of the committee’s meeting, and claimed both he and his colleagues were taking the criticism “very seriously.”
Calls for personal consequences
Lundteigen maintained that the Parliament should “adopt a culture where unfortunate situations have consequences” for those involved. “If it doesn’t have consequences in the Parliament, it won’t have consequences in other areas of public management either,” Lundteigen said. Solhjell of SV agreed: “More people would be well-served in understanding that the people must see that we dare to let our own leaders face the consequences, just like the Parliament demands of others.”
Michael Tetzchner, a veteran Member of Parliament from Thommessen’s own Conservative Party, noted that what many have called a “scandal” has grown from being “a NOK 70 million project involving replacing some windows, a ventilation facility and improving fire safety, to involving an unnecessary tunnel that’s 260 meters long, an unnecessary excavation for a new cellar and a postal and goods delivery terminal that there’s really no need for.” The project has also caused great disruption for other businesses and even an embassy in the neighbourhood. Tetzchner complained there were “no brakes” on the project at any time.
Thommessen, meanwhile, has defended the project, blamed its problems on an external consulting firm and never shown any sign of being willing to resign over it, even though taxpayers are left with a total bill of around NOK 1.8 billion.