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State auditor general shames the Norwegian Parliament

Norway’s state auditor general delivered a scathing report against the country’s own Parliament on Thursday, after several years of scandalous revelations regarding politicians’ misuse of benefits programs. The Parliament’s administration also failed to manage or control benefits paid out.

More than 50 former Members of Parliament received and accepted too much severance pay, while others have abused travel and commuter housing benefits. Norway’s state auditor general revealed the results of a lengthy investigation into benefits abuse on Thursday. PHOTO: Stortinget/Morten Brakesdat

“The consequences of this are that there have been considerable mistakes made in the management of benefits programs,” State Auditor General Karl Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen declared at a press conference on Thursday. His office has labelled the mismanagement as “worthy of extreme criticism,” the strongest rebuke the auditor general can issue.

He blamed it on poor work by the Parliament’s former administration, regulations that lacked clarity, inadequate information and control, and a lack of responsibility on the part of individual Members of Parliament.

“It shows that our most important democratic institution has not had order in its own house,” said Schjøtt-Pedersen, a former high-ranking Labour Party politician himself, as he revealed the results of an extensive investigation into the Parliament’s use of severance pay, commuter housing and expense accounts.

Errors, unintentional or otherwise, were made on both sides. Several Members of Parliament failed to file reports as they should have, while the Parliament’s adminstration (which has since been replaced) failed to inform MPs of their duties or monitor their payouts.

As a result, several MPs received far too much severance pay after leaving Parliament, didn’t follow the rules for use of commuter housing in the capital or abused reimbursement for travel from their home districts. Nor were they taxed on benefits received: In one case, reports newspaper Aftenposten, the Parliament paid out around NOK 700,000 (USD 70,000) in commuter reimbursement without withholding tax owed on the amount.

State Auditor General Karl Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen declared that the Norwegian Parliament “has not had order in its own house.” PHOTO: Riksrevisjon

The most severe abuse came in the form of severance pay when MPs voluntarily left or were voted out of Parliament. Under the rules, they’re entitled to three months of almost full pay, plus up to another 12 months at around 66 percent of their pay (which now amounts to just over NOK 1 million a year) until they get a new job. Former MPs are required to actively be seeking new work, and document it.

Instead, however, several MPs failed to do so and wrongly accepted monthly pay fro the Parliament that its administrators wrongly sent out. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has reported how former MP Jan Arild Ellingsen of the Progress Party has repaid around NOK 500,000 that he wrongly received.

Other politicians wrongly receiving severance pay included Harald Tom Nesvik, also of the Progress Party; Anne Tingelstad Wøien of the Center Party and Gunnar Gundersen of the Conservatives.

“This is uncomfortable,” admitted Wøien to Aftenposten. “I’m very sorry that I put myself into this situation.”

Others have referred to unclear regulations and the fact that the Parliament sent them money they willingly received, assuming it was correct. Several members of the Parliament’s administration have since resigned.

The state auditor general’s office also confirmed several deficiencies regarding travel expense reimbursement and, not least, use of commuter apartments provided for MPs from outside Oslo.

Schjøtt-Pedersen and his staff examined accounts tied to 500 current and former MPs. He confirmed that seven former MPs have received more than NOK 100,000 too much each. Another 14 have received NOK 50,000 too much. He could also confirm that the Parliament’s own administration of benefits programs was woefully inadequate. Fully 61 MPs failed to inform the Parliament of relevant income that would have reduced their severance pay. Several MPs’ abuse of commuter housing has also sparked scandals. It’s all threatened to put a big damper on Norwegians’ confidence in their elected officials.

Parliament President Masud Gharahkhani, who assumed his post after his predecessor resigned over allegedly exploiting benefits, called the auditor general’s report “serious.” He said his office agreed that the criticism was justified “and that we have not had proper management” of the politicians’ benefits.

He now aims to “be open” and rebuild confidence in the Parliament. “We have already launched the measures needed to correct what went wrong,” he told Aftenposten. “The work to clean up has begun.” Berglund



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