The lawyers at the Prime Minister’s office thought that the Storting’s right to access government notes was “controversial” and “unclear”. Now the elected representatives want to adopt the exact opposite.
For over two hundred years, Norway’s top elected officials have seen secret documents about how the country is governed, to control the government. In recent years, however, lawyers at the Prime Minister’s Office (SMK) have called the right “controversial” and “unclear”.
The Labor Party and the Socialist People’s Party are now announcing in the Storting that they will make it clear how the Constitution is to be understood in a new decision.
– It is important to specify how the control functions should work and we are clear that the Storting is entitled to the documents we need to do our job. It includes government notes in special cases, where objectionable purposes can be identified. It is absolutely crucial for the principle of distribution of power, says member of the control and constitution committee Nils T. Bjørke (Sp) to VG.
The content of government notes, often called r-notes, can be sensitive and apply to the economy, security policy and government management. They are absolutely central in the government’s decisions, are prepared by the individual ministers and their closest employees and must provide a good basis for making decisions.
Last year, a committee led by Svein Harberg (H) delivered a comprehensive report on the Storting’s control functions, which will be completed in March.
– Section 75 of the Constitution is clear that the Storting has the right to such access through plenary decisions in the Storting. This is something the Labor Party has meant for a long time, and the Harberg report confirms our position. We will stick to this when the matter is up for consideration in the Storting, says Lubna Jaffery (Labor Party) who is a member of the Control and Constitution Committee.
She emphasizes that r-notes will not be made public even though the Storting may have them handed out for review.
There was a riot in the Storting earlier this autumn when Klassekampen revealed that the lawyers at SMK had made changes to a guide that the Prime Minister’s office prepared for their own use. First, they called the Storting’s right of access to such documents “controversial”, and then “unclear” last year.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor Party) himself had to go out and defend the changes in the Storting’s Question Time. Expedition chief Therese Steen and senior adviser Anders Flaatin Wilhelmsen at SMK also stepped out and defended their assessments.
Asks SMK to change
– In the guide, the Prime Minister’s office refers to a remark made by a minority in the Frøiland committee. I think it is wise if they now update the guide in line with the view that emerges through the Storting’s consideration of the Harberg committee’s report, Jaffery tells VG.
She is followed by the Center Party.
– The guide to SMK is questionable everything today. It is not the minority that will lay down guidelines for how the Storting’s access to documents for control is to be made, Bjørke adds.
It is expected that the other parties on the red-green side will also support that the Storting has the right to receive r-notes in plenary decisions.
There are several dragon battles about openness. Last year, the Storting passed a new law that prevents the Civil Ombudsman from demanding access to government notes, and to documents directly related to them.
The civil ombudsman is subject to the Storting and shall ensure that the citizens’ legal security is safeguarded in the meeting with the state. That work has become more difficult after the change in the law, civil representative Hanne Harlem told VG in December.
– We see that the state administration has begun to use the exception, in access cases directed at the ministries, she said and called the situation “unfortunate”.
Afterwards, Rødt submitted a proposal to change the law to provide more transparency. The proposal has not been put to the vote yet, but the two governing parties are so far in favor.
– I take the Civil Ombudsman’s concern seriously. We will consider the proposal later and will discuss the matter then, says Jaffery.
– The Center Party was clear that we did not want that reduction when it was adopted. We must consider the proposal when that time comes, but I can say that we have not changed our position in the meantime.