From Iceland — Prime Minister with Doubts About Charging Former Ministers

Prime Minister with Doubts About Charging Former Ministers

Published September 21, 2010

Addressing parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir said she doubted that it would be right to press charges of negligence and mismanagement against four former government ministers for their part in the economic collapse. The statement goes against public opinion, and numerous members of the Leftist-Green Party have expressed both surprise and disappointment with the prime minister’s remarks.
As reported, the parliamentary committee was originally assembled with the knowledge and approval of the prime minister and given the task to investigate which, if any, former ministers should stand trial in a national court for their part in the economic collapse. Their conclusion was that two conservatives – former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde and former Minister of Finance Árni M. Mathiesen – and one Social Democrat, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, should stand trial. The committee’s decision was split with regards to former Minister of Business Björgvin G. Sigurðsson, also a Social Democrat, but in the end he was also recommended to stand trial.
According to a poll conducted by Market and Media Research, 66.3% of Icelanders are in favor of seeing charges pressed against the four former ministers, and even broken down by party lines, only conservative voters are opposed to the idea.
Despite this, the prime minister – herself a Social Democrat – told parliament yesterday that she doubts that pressing charges against them would accomplish anything, and that they could not have prevented the economic collapse. Jóhanna has previously expressed the opinion, though, that the privatization of the banks and the conservative government’s laissez-faire policies led to the collapse. Presumably the prime minister believes that by 2007 – when the Social Democrats came to power alongside the conservatives – nothing could have been done to prevent the banks from failing.
Numerous Leftist-Green MPs have responded to the prime minister’s remarks with surprise, including Björn Valur Gíslason, who pointed out that “the prime minister stood by this proposal [for the parliamentary committee] just like other MPs and knew what its purpose was”. Foreign affairs committee chairman Árni Þór Sigurðsson seconded this, adding “I think this criticism comes a little late right now.”
The prime minister’s statement has cast doubts over whether a parliamentary majority would be able to approve a measure to press charges against the former ministers. A vote on the matter is still pending.

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