E claim smith
Professor of Law, University of Oslo
It depends on what we mean by “Storting”.
This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are the responsibility of the writer.
The Storting deserves respect as our highest elected body under the Constitution. But often the word is used to denote the house in and around Karl Johans gate 22 or everything that happens there.
This creates the danger that respect for the Storting as a legislative branch will extend to all possible activities that are not based on the Constitution. For example, tasks as a property manager or as a personnel office.
Guttorm Hansen (Labor Party), who was chairman of the Storting from 1973 to 1981, was personally highly respected. He had a great interest in the constitutional rules of the game. During an introduction to a seminar a few years later (1989) on law and politics in public life, he mentioned, among other things, an episode of the statutory wage and price freeze period (1979).
The prohibition also includes wage regulation for the government and the Supreme Court, which is generally not adopted by law.
This created a situation that he perceived as “difficult and a bit embarrassing”. At the ministry, however, there were “some nice people” who said the Storting could apply for a dispensation.
“At that point, I ended the conversation,” he said.
The story aroused joy in the university ballroom where the Storting held its meetings in the years before 1866. The case was taken out of the world by a special law on salaries in government and the Supreme Court.
But the story is still thought-provoking.
What Hansen actually said was that it was unworthy of the Storting to apply to an administrative body for a waiver of a law that the Storting himself had agreed to adopt.
This refers to today’s debate on the Storting’s relationship with taxation of free housing. In recent years, we have also experienced cases of poor control over the payment of Storting pensions and poorly managed construction project. The dispute over the right of the Auditor General to control the administrative activities of the Storting adds another dimension.
There is a danger that these cases will weaken trust in the political system, the politicians or the Storting itself. But the depth of the mistrust depends on what we really mean by the “Storting.”
Regardless of our opinion on the individual decision of the Storting, it has the right to be respected because it has been made by our highest elected body. There is no reason for respect to benefit other types of activities in and around the Storting building.
Construction work, the acquisition and operation of computer equipment, personnel management, security services and much more are not constitutional in nature.
Only a small part of the administrative apparatus that has gradually emerged can be directly associated with the Storting’s role as legislative and approving power.
In reality, much of this activity is of exactly the same nature as similar activities in all other parts of the administrative apparatus.
Justified claim of respect
However, there are many indications that the party that belongs to the Storting as state power has moved on to the broad support functions that have emerged. But the administration of the Storting is not entitled to greater respect than any other administrative activity in the state.
It is important that this is also understood within the walls of the house.
However, Guttorm Hansen’s 40-year history provides an example of how justified demands for the Storting’s respect as a legislative body can easily be extended to more prosaic administrative functions.
Unfortunately, we have gradually received many examples of administrative apparatuses that do not benefit from being protected from control, which is a matter of course in the state apparatus in general.
The “boss” will not be seen on the cards.
I have no basis for claiming that such an exaggerated self-image is the most important reason why the Storting chose to entrust the management of the garage project to its own administration. But at least the fact that the task has not been left in the hands of a part of the state administration that has special experience in these issues invites reflection.
At least the “Storting” had not been blamed for Statsbygg’s project management errors and omissions.
A moderate self-image can also facilitate acceptance of external control from other parts of the many administrative tasks that are handled on behalf of the Storting. Perhaps, for example, the Directorate of Financial Management could also handle the Storting’s salary payments?
Aftenposten’s documentation on the events when the Office of the Auditor General in 2017 felt detained by the then president and director makes it tempting to have similar thoughts.
The “principled” problem with this form of independent control that the presidency intended to see is not obvious. But it is natural to think that the “boss” would not be seen on the cards. Well, the outgoing presidency against the ropes made it clear that he is free to move on.
I had no authority
The question of the control of the General Audit also has another side. According to the law, the General Auditor can be instructed by the “Storting”, which in this sense is the “head” of the audit. But the instructions must be approved in plenary. They must be kept within the limits established by the constitution and the law.
Therefore, we can affirm that the chairman of the Storting or the director did not have the authority to stop the control of the security work of the Office of the Auditor General in the administration of the Storting.
Therefore, both parties may well note that the Storting had said nothing. And if the case had been raised there, it would at least have been made public.
Should raise awareness
According to the Constitution, the Office of the Auditor General must audit the accounts of the state. There is no doubt that the accounts of the Storting are included here.
In the same way, the Storting building and the equipment there do not belong to the Storting, but to the state. The Storting administration has no greater right to intervene in the freedom of demonstration in Eidsvolls plass, which is one of the most important public arenas in the country, than the municipality of Oslo, which owns Youngstorget.
So you don’t have to deal with plans to demonstrate, for example, for or against China.
These days, the Storting is electing a new presidency. The new crew should help raise awareness that only part of what the “Storting” is doing is entitled to the respect that belongs to our highest elected body.