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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Director ‘retires’ amidst scandal

Ida Børresen, the head of administration at the Norwegian Parliament who became embroiled in its huge scandal over the skyrocketing costs of a building project, has decided not to seek another term. She’ll retire next year instead.

It seemed to start out well back in 2012, when Ida Børresen was appointed as director of the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget). She had earlier worked in the justice and education ministries and was head of the state immigration agency UDI before taking over at the Parliament. Børresen has also been on the boards of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Theater, among others. PHOTO: Stortinget/Beathe Schieldrop

Newspaper Aftenposten was careful to point out on Thursday that Børresen will turn 67, Norway’s official retirement age, later this month. She was eligible to seek another term, but a statement from her office reported that she had informed the Parliament President’s office that she, “as agreed,” would relinquish her post when her current term expires on April 30. Børresen will officially retire on May 1.

She’s been at the center of the building scandal that began as a project to expand office and garage space and improve its postal and cargo terminal. Her adminstration and the President’s Office took responsibility for the project, instead of having the state agency in charge of property (Statsbygg) handle it, and both its scope and costs all but ran out of control. From an initial budget of around NOK 100 million, costs are now hitting NOK 1.8 billion and may rise. The entire neighbourhood south of the Parliament (Stortinget), from the square known as Wesselsplass to the street running east of the City Hall plaza (Rådhusgata) has suffered years of disruption.

Things got even worse this past summer after Børresen and the President of the Parliament, Olemic Thommessen not only failed to fully address questions from Members of Parliament but directly challenged their political authority. In a highly unusual, tripartisan complaint, three members of the Parliament’s disciplinary committee from the Labour, Conservatives and Progress parties called on Børresen’s “battle” with the Parliament itself to cease. They accused her of restorting to “special use of the facts,” for being vague, for “inappropriate use of terror threats” and for “choosing a tone of inevitability to clarify how she moved from one decision worthy of criticism to another.” Her attempts to blame media reports for being “imprecise” and to challenge the conclusions of a state auditor general’s report were not well-received either.

As the two leaders of the Parliament, Børresen and Olemic Thommessen (center) have many professional and ceremonial duties. They’re shown here welcoming NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg back to the Parliament, where he served for many years and as prime minister, in 2015. PHOTO: Stortinget/Sverre Christian Jarild

Both Børresen and Thommessen had already been accused of “breaking their own rules” and Thommessen endured the strongest possible criticism from MPs in June. The MP’s complaint, published in newspaper Aftenposten in July, led many politicial commentators to conclude that at least Børresen’s career was over. The highly respected professor Frank Aarebrot, who died last weekend, said he’d never seen such a “political uproar” over the administrative leadership of the Parliament and he called it “extremely serious for the Parliament’s director (Børresen).” He said it would be all but impossible for her to continue in her post.

“It oozes of a lack of confidence” in her work, Aarebrot told Aftenposten. He noted how the controversy around the building scandal had also been directed at Thommessen, but the three top MPs’ complaint was directed solely at Børresen. “They believe she has another version of reality than they do,” Aarebrot said. “In any conflict between the administration and the Parliament, the Parliament will win.”

He concluded that if she didn’t resign voluntarily, she’d be fired. Now she’s decided to retire.

Thommessen, meanwhile, also came under fire for having reportedly known about how Børresen planned to challenge the Parliament and allowed it to go through. Professor Trond Nordby later blasted Thommessen for then remaining silent as the controversy roared around Børresen.

He and others think Thommessen’s position is likely also on the line, not least as newly re-elected Prime Minister Erna Solberg forms a new government and is likely to shuffle her ministers. She appointed Thommessen, who had wanted to be culture minister, to his post four years ago. Given all the trouble around his office, and other controversies around his leadership, his days of holding the position that’s second only to the monarch’s may be numbered as well. Berglund



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