Greens’ politician lands in trouble

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She’s been one of Oslo’s most high-profile politicians, and scored a major personal victory when her Greens Party more than doubled its election result in September, thus securing its hold on power in the Norwegian capital. Now, however, Lan Marie Nguyen Berg is on long-term sick leave for apparent exhaustion, and stands accused of misleading the city council and media about massive violations of labour law.

Lan Marie Nguyen Berg was on the offensive on election night last September, but now finds herself on defensive. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported this week that Berg was given an overview in February of the violations at one of the city agencies she oversees, the energy and recycling operation Energigjenvin-ningsetaten (EGE). New documents show that she was made aware of 730 violations, even though she stated earlier this autumn that she had no such overview.

“This is a situation that can’t be misunderstood,” Kjersti Løken Stavrum, board leader of the freedom of expression advocacy group Norsk PEN, told NRK on Wednesday. “The city government leader’s department has tried to hold back a scandal.”

Violations far more pervasive
NRK reported in August that there’d been a total of 557 violations of labour law at EGE in the City of Oslo. It’s a prestige agency for the Greens party, responsible for recycling food remains into energy. The numbers cited by NRK stemmed from Berg’s own department, and NRK can now document that she was informed of the violations as early as February.

In September, however, she told state labour authorities that she had no satisfactory overview of the violations, even though EGE director Hans Petter Karlsen had sent her data on them on February 13. Accounting firm PwC was hired to investigate the agency and delivered its report in October.

Berg went on sick leave in November and her Greens Party colleague in the city government, Hanna Marcussen, has taken over Berg’s duties on a temporary basis. She told NRK that the overview from February should have been disclosed, but its content was withheld pending completion of the PwC probe.

Greens deny they withheld bad news
Marcussen denies that the labour authorities’ own probe of the violations has been hindered, or that the information was intentionally withheld: “When we responded to the authorities, we said we hadn’t received numbers that had been checked for quality. That’s an honest answer.”

Political opponents think not. “It shouldn’t be up to NRK to spend nine months trying to track down numbers before the city government official in charge shares them,” Øystein Sundelin of the Conservative Party told NRK. “This reeks of bad conscience and a desire to withhold all this until last fall’s election campaign was over.”

Sundelin accuses Berg of not only withholding documents but fabricating a reason as well. “They’re not answering honestly about what information they have, but creating a parallel story around it.”

‘Tried to cheat journalists’
Stavrum said it was difficult not to believe that Berg and others in the city “consciously tried to cheat journalists.” Stavrum is a former head o the Norwegian Press Federation.

Several political parties are now considering a no-confidence vote against Berg but the Conservatives will likely wait until all probes of the case are delivered.

Berg received the most personal votes of all candidates in the September election, which the Greens won, but has also angered many Oslo residents over her efforts to hinder use of private cars in downtown areas. She’s also been accused of polarizing rhetoric and has seemed to enjoy the discomfort her policies have caused for vehicle owners and oil company employees. She has said that she understands “folks can be provoked” when she “takes away their street parking,” but has promised more of the same in the years ahead. She has declined all comment on the labour violation scandal since she’s on leave.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund