Leadership of the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) has decided to accept a claim from state tax authorities that the national assembly itself has paid too little tax and employer fees for a period of three years. After months of protests and debate, the parliament agreed to pay what the authorities claim it owed.
In a letter to state tax agency Skatteetaten released on Wednesday, Stortinget’s President Masud Gharahkhani wrote that as a law-making body, the parliament’s leadership “doesn’t think it’s right” to file an appeal against the agency charged with administering tax policy. He added that claims for the years 2017 to 2020, amounting to NOK 1.02 million in additional employer fees and NOK 38,815 in additional tax, have already been paid.
He noted that the claim tied to the employers’ fee (which helps cover various employee benefits such as paid sick leave) had also been reduced by the tax authorities, while five fewer Members of Parliament (23 instead of 28) are getting claims for back taxes of their own. Claims against two individual MPs have also been reduced. The lower tax bills and fines came after Skatteetaten agreed that its guidelines had been unclear.
Gharahkhani stressed the need for “an open process and good cooperation” with the tax authorities, after Norwegian media had first revealed how various MPs and the Parliament itself had received undue tax breaks tied to commuter housing and other benefits.
Ongoing need for clarity
He noted, though, that legal experts continue to have “varying evaluations” of tax rules, and that it’s “important that such lack of clarity” is addressed in order to avoid tax rules being misunderstood. Individual MPs who don’t agree with claims filed against them “remain free to appeal measures directed at them.”
The decision to drop further tax appeals from the Parliament as a whole can help wrap up what many have called a scandal involving both the Parliament’s administration and dozens of MPs themselves. A similar scandal gripped the Office of the Prime Minister, which tax authorities also claim has failed to monitor taxes owed on the value of benefits. They include free housing and reimbursed transport for top politicians who commute to Oslo from their hometowns and cities.
It all led to concerns that Norwegians’ traditional confidence in their political leaders would decline, and needed to be redeemed. Others argued that the tax policy involved was unclear and that MPs shouldn’t be punished for relying on the Parliament’s administration to withhold enough taxes to cover any owed on benefits. Several MPs have gone public with the claims against them, some have apologized, and many have agreed to pay large sums to clear themselves.
Norway’s national taxpayer association, though, was disappointed over the Parliament’s decision not to further challenge the tax authorities. Skattebetalerforeningen had hoped the Parliament would take the case to the state tax appeals board, especially to clarify how tax value attached to various benefits is calculated. The association also thinks the tax authorities have introduced new measures regarding commuter benefits that weren’t practiced earlier.