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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Labour leaders challenge Tajik

The leaders of three major labour unions are demanding answers from Labour Minister Hadia Tajik of the Labour Party, after a string of media reports that she exploited state rules for free commuter housing in Oslo. They contend Tajik needs to “restore the confidence” of the entire labour movement.

Hadia Tajik was all smiles last fall, when she took over as Labour Minister after the Labour Party won the national election in September. She’s been fending off the equivalent of tax evasion charges, though, over the past few weeks. PHOTO: ASD/Ingrid Asp

Newspaper VG has been among Norwegian media reporting on the latest alleged political scandal in Parliament and the government: Tajik, who now also serves as a deputy leader of the Labour Party, had admitted to wrongly benefitting from use of a so-called pendlerleilighet, a fully paid commuter apartment offered to Members of Parliament and the government who live more than 40 kilometers from downtown Oslo.

Tajik was a young political adviser for former Labour Minister Bjarne Håkon Hanssen when she first applied for, and was granted, a tax-free commuter apartment in 2006. She was 23 years old at the time and went from being a student at the University of Oslo right into the highest levels of government.

The tax-free, all-expenses-paid housing for the young Tajik from Rogaland in southwestern Norway was granted on the condition that she had housing expenses back home in Rogaland. Tajik then supplied a rental contract in a house neighbouring her parents home to document such expenses, but newspaper VG could report that Tajik never used the rental unit or the contract.

She has since admitted she erred at the time, and has claimed that she’ll arrange to pay the taxes on the housing benefit that she should have paid while living in the government’s apartment from 2006 to 2010. “I have contacted Skatteetaten (Norway’s tax collection agency) to alert them to incoming payments, and asked tax attorney Einar Harboe to calculate the tax advantage I had from 2006-2010,” Tajik wrote on social media last week.

She has admitted that when she first applied for the commuter housing, she was unaware it could be taxable. She then submitted a revised application claiming expenses in her home district that would remove the tax liability. Newspaper Aftenposten has also reported that Tajik was granted free commuter housing for three months in Oslo in 2019, for which she did not pay tax on the advantage either. She claims that housing was arranged for security reasons, and she has criticized Aftenposten for its reporting of the matter.

“I have crossed off some wrong boxes” on applications for the free housing, Tajik has since told VG, but that hasn’t satisfied the labour union leaders who now want some clarification in order to “restore confidence” in Tajik. VG reported it’s the first time the labour leaders, all of whom sit on the Labour Party’s central board, have criticized Tajik, who now serves in the Labour Party-led government.

“I have nothing to hide in this case and look forward to speak with the labour leaders and the rest of the central board,” Tajik said on Monday. She was referring to Peggy Hessen Følsvik, who leads Norway’s largest trade union federation LO, along with Mette Nord and Jørn Eggum, leaders of the trade union federations Fagforbundet and Fellesforbundet respectively.

Tajik’s boss, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, declined comment as did other Labour Party leaders. After the board meeting ended on Monday, Følsvik, Nord and Eggum were also silent, while Raymond Johansen, who leads Oslo’s city government, claimed it was “strange” that the three labour leaders would bring up the issue “given the situation we have in Ukraine.” Both he and Støre seemed to think there were more important issues at hand than Tajik’s failure to pay tax on her housing advantage more than 10 years ago.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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