Per Christian Voss
Auditor-General and Director-General of the Office of the Auditor-General
We in the Auditor General’s office felt we were completely kicked out of the top management of the Norwegian Parliament in 2017. But at the next crossroads, we won’t hear back.
This is the topic of discussion. Opinions expressed in the text are at the author’s expense.
Norway’s parliament speaker, W. Troon, believes that the OAG itself chose to end the security investigation in Parliament. Now she claims it was because of the security act. I repeat: it was the presidency at that time that stopped us.
On Saturday 25 September, Troyen wrote in Aftenposten that Parliament “wanted a good and clear framework for oversight activities in the Office of the Auditor General”. It is, of course, a well-functioning issue of modern democracy, but I am still glad that it confirms this perfectly.
At the same time, it alleges that the OAG itself chose in 2017 to end an ongoing security compliance audit in Parliament. According to Troyen, this was “because Parliament was not subject to the security law in force at the time”. None of the parts are correct.
Neither self-elected nor because of the security law
In a letter dated December 5, 2017 – two-thirds of the security survey – the then-presidency wrote:
“However, the ongoing compliance audit provides a basis for questions about the forms of audit that the Office of the Auditor General as the oversight body of the Norwegian Parliament should carry out with the activities of Parliament, and on what basis the audit should be conducted.”
They also write:
“The development of conformity audit as a separate form of audit means that the Presidency believes that it is necessary for the Norwegian Parliament to make an initial assessment of how to arrange this form of audit in relation to the activities of Parliament.”
The presidency also mentioned the security law in the letter. It is true that there was uncertainty about how the law would be applied to Parliament, but this was not the main reason for the presidency. It was principled and concerned the extent to which the Office of the Auditor General could scrutinize the work of Parliament.
So the presidency asked us to explain the legal basis for compliance audits. It’s the first time in the modern era that those we audit have asked questions about our chance to do our work.
Two days later – December 7, 2017 – we sent out a comprehensive statement. We have explained what a compliance audit is, the basis for conducting such surveys and not least why they are important.
Two different presidents – two different stories
We never received any letter, but we met the Presidency on December 18. There, the then Speaker of Parliament, Olmec Thomsen, reiterated the message in the letter – the Auditor General’s office does not have the mandate and legal basis to conduct compliance audits of the Parliament’s administration.
Of course, the jacket was not present at this meeting, but it was Vice President of the College of Auditor General Carl-Eric Sgüt Pedersen and audit advisor Jens Gunvaldsen and the undersigned. We were all of the same opinion – initiating a compliance audit was not desirable.
It’s the first time in the modern era that those we audit have asked questions about our chance to do our job
Aftenposten wrote on September 21: “Former Parliament Speaker Olmec Thomsen (on the floor) has confirmed that he has suspended the Office of the Auditor General. “At the time, we believed that the AG had no power to investigate Parliament, and that a matter of principle had to be clarified,” says Thomsen.
So it was Thomsen who stopped us. In his remarks, Troyen refers exclusively to our December 7 statement, but ignores other important parts of the process and dialogue. As she confirms that we discontinued the audit due to uncertainty about security law, I can’t help but wonder.
Should we continue?
But Troyen is right – the AG must operate independently of both Parliament and the central government. It is an important democratic value that we have a special responsibility to preserve.
At the same time, we do not lose sight of the fact that the Norwegian Parliament is in a special position in its relationship with us – we are a body that governs it. Parliament has given us our mandate and adopted the law and instructions on which our work is based. We work independently on specific audits, but we work within the framework established by Parliament.
We may have been too obedient, but the college of five auditors, as well as the administrative management of the Office of the Auditor General, felt we had no choice.
As an accountant, I know that learning from his mistakes is the best way to learn. So I ask myself now should we listen to the presidency in 2017 and still? In light of hindsight, perhaps we should, argues law professor Evind Smith.
But to be honest – at the time I tried it as impossible. We may have been too obedient, but a group of five auditors, as well as the administrative management of the Office of the Auditor General, felt we had no other choice. We felt expelled from the top leadership of the Norwegian parliament in 2017. But at the next crossroads, we won’t hear back. I learned that from this case.
More importantly, Troyen seems to agree that this is a clear task for the OAG, although her predecessor, according to him, “believed at the time that the OAG had no investigative power in Parliament”.
Now we have to move forward
Parliament and the Auditor General’s office both work in our favour, but they have a joint responsibility. We will take care of and strengthen Norwegian democracy and ensure trust between the population and the authorities.
None of us can change what happened in 2017. Therefore, we must now end this issue and move on.
The Office of the Auditor General investigates what has happened in public institutions, but is always looking to the future. Our vision is to conduct reviews that benefit the society of tomorrow.
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