5 June 2003


More Hafslund bidders (Dagens Næringsliv)

At a press conference this afternoon, the power utilities Akershus Energi, Vardar and Østfold Energi will announce their intention of bidding for Hafslund’s electricity production facilities. Their bid will probably amount to around NOK 4 billion. This is – not unexpectedly – less than the value neutral market players have put on Hafslund’s electricity production business. Analyst Øystein Øyehaug of Sundal Collier, for example, estimates Hafslund’s power production to be worth NOK 5.3 billion. However, it is not simply the matter of price that must be clarified if the three are to receive a positive response from Hafslund. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block is the huge tax liability Hafslund would incur if it sold its electricity production facilities.

HEP to go ahead on the Sauda (Aftenposten)

Hydro-electric power stations, with an output totalling 490 GWh, will now be constructed on the Sauda river system. The Labour Party pulled the Government’s coals out of the fire on this issue by deciding to vote for its proposal when Labour’s own did not win sufficient support in the Storting. “We think it is regrettable that the ruling coalition parties have refused to approve a more substantial HEP project. We stand primarily behind our own alternative. But failing that, we will vote for the Government’s proposal. If we do not there will be no additional HEP production at all,” said Sylvia Brustad, who leads the Labour contingent on the Storting’s Energy and Environment Committee. No decision has yet been made as to when construction of the new HEP facilities will start.

NOK 30 billion public spending boost no threat to interest rates (Dagsavisen)

According to calculations made by Statistics Norway, the Government could spend an additional NOK 30 billion to create jobs – without eating away the forecast cut in interest rates. It was a happy day for the Norwegian economy yesterday, following indications that central bank governor Svein Gjedrem will soon cut interest rates by one whole percentage point. But despite the best day of trading on the stock market this year, with a bigger rise in share prices than on European stock exchanges for the fifth day running, and the jubilation of export industries over the continuing fall in the exchange rate, the majority of MPs in the Storting are opposed to spending more of Norway’s oil wealth in the revised national budget.

Support for exiled Iranian group (nrk.no)

The exiled Iranian group known as the People’s Mujahedin, which has its northern European headquarters in Norway, could receive support from the USA to overthrow the current regime in Iran. Since 1997, the group has figured on the USA and EU’s list of terrorist organizations, and its leaders have been banned from several European countries. But it now seems as if the USA is about to change its thinking entirely. For several years Norway has been the principle base for the People’s Mujahedin in northern Europe. While other European countries have refused to allow the organization in, Norway has done nothing. The USA is being lobbied from Norway, and the leader of the movement in the Nordic region, Perviz Khazai, has just been in Washington to win US support for the organization. The USA’s about-face is worrying several of the experts NRK has spoken to, including Middle East specialist Kari Vogt. Ms Vogt says that this group, which she describes as undemocratic and violent, has no support within Iran and has been banned for many years.

35-year-olds, dismissed! (Verdens Gang)

The Norwegian Armed Forces are preparing to implement drastic measures to prevent their ranks from being clogged with aging non-commissioned officers. An internal working group is now proposing a maximum age limit of 35 for large parts of its under-officer corps. According to the working group’s proposal, this new group of non-commissioned officers will be given the rank of sergeant, rising to master sergeant and finally to staff sergeant. If it were implemented, the proposal would mean that 5,000-7,500 of the Armed Forces’ 10,000 officers would be made redundant once they had passed the age of 35. At that time they would have around 15 years of experience in the military, but would have 20 years left of their working lives.

Companies named and shamed for lack of women at the top (Dagbladet)

One in three of the country’s 238 largest companies has more than one woman on the board and in top management. But, according to a major survey carried out by the organization Management Equality Diversity, almost one fifth of the companies analyzed remain completely lacking in female representation at the top. Heading the list of those with no women at the top are Kjell Inge Røkke’s Aker RGI and the investment company Ferd, which is owned by tobacco heir Johan H. Andresen Jr. Other companies which practice women-free zones on their boards and in top management are BNBank, Elkjøp, Glamox, Jotun and Moelven.

1. Worth Noting

  • According to the Labour Party, state-owned power utility Statkraft should be given NOK 10 billion in fresh capital to fund the purchase of Oslo City Council’s shares in Hafslund. Labour expects to win majority backing for its proposal.
    (Dagens Næringsliv)
  • In the opinion of public prosecutor Lasse Qvigstad, Jordan’s request for the extradition of Mullah Krekar is so full of holes that it will have to be denied. Six months ago the Norwegian Foreign Ministry asked Jordan to supply more information about Krekar’s alleged drug smuggling activities, but has not heard anything back.
  • So far this year the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime has received as many reports of alleged money laundering as in the whole of last year. Banks and insurance companies are now compelled to report suspicious transactions, and the figures indicate that they are getting better and better at doing so.
  • At least 12 doctors, nurses and dentists have been given unrestricted rights to practice in Norway, despite the fact that they have been struck off in their native countries. The health workers concerned come from Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. Next week the Norwegian Board of Health will embark on the process of hunting down 12 named individuals.
  • It is extremely unlikely that we will be able to afford to retain the current system of regulating pensions in the future. Three months before the country goes to the polls in local and county council elections, a fierce power struggle is underway in the Storting over payments to around one million voters. “It is not certain that today’s system can carry on into the future. It will be extremely demanding to fulfil our commitments,” said Sigbjørn Johnsen, chairman of the Pensions Commission.
    (Vårt Land)
  • Electricity brokers are not worried about the prospect of another power crisis this autumn and winter. Rain and melting snow are gradually filling up the reservoirs that feed the country’s hydro-electric power stations. Forward contracts for next year, which are being traded now, indicate an average electricity price of well under NOK 0.5 KWh, compared with over NOK 1 last winter.
  • The state subsidizes each member of the European Movement in Norway to the tune of NOK 143, while each member of the organization No to the EU gets NOK 45. The two organizations receive the same amount in state subsidies, NOK 1 million a year. While No to the EU had 22,000 members last year, the European Movement in Norway had 7,000. Other voluntary organizations receive state subsidies in proportion to size of their membership.

2. Today’s comment from Verdens Gang

The way the Bondevik government has handled the issue of pension increases is almost a case study in poor political craftsmanship. The Government’s clumsiness will now result in an unnecessary and humiliating defeat in the Storting. Along the way, the ruling coalition has irritated thousands of pensioners, who have perceived the Government’s performance as incredibly arrogant. From the announcement of the revised national budget two weeks ago, until now, the Government has acted in such a way that it has been driven from pillar to post in the battle over pensions. In its revised national budget proposal, the Government wanted to reverse the Storting’s decision to make up the pensions lag from the previous year. But the Finance Ministry insisted that pensioners would have to show the same moderation as other groups. So they would have to wait. Many people believe that the Government’s clumsy handling of this issue is due to the Prime Minister’s long and frequent absences in recent weeks. His highly-tuned political skills should have prevented this issue from developing into a guaranteed loser for the Government. We will have to hope, for the Government’s sake, that the political craftsmanship that is necessary to pilot the revised national budget to a conclusion will be of a far higher quality. With local and county council elections just round the corner, and record low support in the opinion polls, the ruling coalition parties cannot afford to give the opposition such gift-wrapped opportunities to score political points as the pensions issue has turned out to be.