Another Progress leader shamed

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Norway’s right-wing Progress Party, which is a member of the country’s conservative government coalition, has lost another of its top politicians to a mix of poor judgment and failure to keep sensitive information confidential. Helge André Njåstad is the latest in a string of Progress Party officials who have created major personnel problems.

Helge André Njåstad was one of the Progress Party’s rising young stars. Now he’s resigned all party leadership posts, but must continue as an elected Member of Parliament. PHOTO: Stortinget

Njåstad, a Member of Parliament who has served as Progress’ finance policy spokesman, opted to resign from all leadership positions within the party, just before he was likely to have been forcibly relieved of his duties. The reason: Njåstad by his own account made the “terribly stupid” decision to share sensitive information regarding cases up for review by the party’s internal disciplinary panel.

Njåstad led the panel that handles internal complaints tied to party members’ behaviour or other ethical issues. It’s been criticized for not taking strong enough action against alleged offenders, including those accused of sexual harassment during the recent “MeToo” campaign. Among the cases Njåstad handled were complaints against MP Ulf Leirstein, who was accused of sending hard porn to young party members and suggesting sexual liasons.

Njåstad has admitted to sharing information submitted to the panel with other party members outside the panel who should not have been made privvy to it. Njåstad contends he only talked about a case with an unidentified female party colleague and that she did not spread the information further. The breach was, however, considered a serious violation of the trust that had been placed in Njåstad.

“It’s a clear violation and it was wise of him to resign,” Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She added that if he hadn’t resigned, she would have made sure he was stripped of all positions of trust.

In addition to being Progress’ finance policy spokesman, he was deputy leder of the party’s delegation in Parliament and a member of the party’s main national board. He will remain an MP, however, because that’s an elected position from which no one can be fired.

Njåstad was also recently found to have claimed taxpayer compensation for some highly questionable expenses tied to personal travels that involved family members. He defended those claims and seemed to have survived, only to be caught for revealing sensitive information.

He claimed that he’d felt a need to consult others and obtain their views on difficult cases. “When you’re facing a dilemma it can be helpful to draft it with someone you trust,” Njåstad told NRK. “But I shouldn’t have done that and I should not have shared documents. That was poor judgment and terribly stupid of me.” He added that he also resigned his various party positions because he’s currently involved in a “very difficult family situation” and wanted to be able to spend more time with his 10-year-old son.

Njåstad was closely involved in the recent negotiations to expand Norway’s conservative government coalition, and had been considered a ministerial candidate for the Progress Party. Instead he’s become its latest casualty, following the trouble caused by Lierstein and other top Progress Party politicians.

Terje Søviknes stepped down as oil minister after being dogged by his record of having had sex with an underaged party member. Sylvi Listhaug was forced to resign as justice minister after having wrongly accused the Labour party as being soft on terrorists,  while Per Sandberg was forced to resign as fisheries minister after being careless with a government mobile phone in both China and Iran, and for failing to inform the prime minister’s office of private travels to Iran with a new Iranian girlfriend who once fled the country as a refugee. Sandberg has since also been found guilty of violating the terms of his quarantine by traveling to Iran for meetings and seminars.

Last fall, Progress Party MP Mazyar Keshvari also was charged with fraud after submitting expense claims for around NOK 290,000 worth of undocumented travel. Keshvari faced more police questioning this month and has been removed from his seat on the Parliament’s disciplinary committee but can’t immediately be removed from his elected office either.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund