Ministries Argue, Government Refuses to Answer about Svalbard Airport

- Not my table, says Minister of Transportation, Ketil Solvik-Olsen (FrP), and forgot the numbers in his Office. - It's your report, and your table, replies his collegue in the Ministry of Justis, Per-Willy Amundsen (left in pic.). Between the tables; Svalbard Airport. (Photo: Rafael Matelak/Wikimedia Commons and Norwegian Government).
The figures that form the basis for the degrading of Svalbard airport are kept under lock by the Norwegian government. Departments point their fingers at each other.

The figures that form the basis for the degrading of Svalbard airport are kept under lock by the Norwegian government. Departments point their fingers at each other.

Despite repeated questioning from parliament, from the Svalbard community and not to mention High North News: The government refuses to present the calculations allegedly behind the decision to downgrade Svalbard Airport from ‘international’ to ‘national’.

Cloaked decision

Ever since the decision from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications was announced through a press statement published quietly online at the National Aviation Authority’s home pages, the government has argued that there are economic reasons behind the degrading.

Both Minister of Transportation and Communications, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, as well as his State Secretary Tom Cato Karlsen have emphasized the economic aspect and referred to the generally tremendous development of air travel since the airport achieved its international status back in 1975.

“Significant investments”

In the Norwegian parliament’s Question Hour on 25 October, Solvik-Olsen said that the government has strengthened the Governor of Svalbard’s position, however, for regular flights from abroad “significantly larger investments [will be required]. I do not have the exact figures right here and now, however, we have looked at what would be necessary.”

This was the Minister’s response to a question from Eirik Sivertsen (Labour) about what it would take for Longyearbyen airport to remain an international airport.

In other words, Solvik-Olsen confirmed that it is all a matter of investments, something he emphasized further by adding that “we should not over-invest”.

Not our table

When asked to provide the figures that the Minister claimed not to have ‘there and then’, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications says to High North News that:

“We are of the opinion that this should be an issue for the Ministry of Justice to answer, as the question concerns its budget. We have therefore forwarded your request to the communications division of the Ministry of Justice”.

Once again, it is confirmed that this issue has to do with budgeting, or money, however, this time around it is about money from the Ministry of Justice.

“Not our table either”

In our question we emphasized that this could and should not be linked to our request for insight into the case documents (see further below), given that Ketil Solvik-Olsen in a public meeting in Stortinget referred to the figures, claiming that he’d just forgotten them at his office.

Following repeated reminders to both the Ministry of Justice as well as of Transportation, the Ministry of Justice’s communication division answers:

The Ministry of Transportation issued the report and thus answers questions related to insight into the group’s work. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security therefore refers to the Ministry of Transportation’s extended grounds for partial declining of the request for insight dated 7 November, 2017.

The Security Act

The Ministry of Justice’s reference to “partial declining of the request for insight” refers to the Ministry of Transportation’s formerly declining to allow High North News insight into underlying documents, such as impact assessment, statements from stakeholders etc., based on the Security Act as well as the Freedom of Information Act:

The background material related to the decision to change status for Svalbard airoport builds on internal work conducted in the ministries. Documents related to this work consists of internal organizational documents worked out for the Ministry of Transportation as a part of the internal decision-making process, of documents the Ministry of Transportation has collected from other Ministries as well as documents about collecting documents from other Ministries.

It is our assessment that it is necessary to withhold these documents from external insight in order to secure a safe management of the government’s interests in this matter.

Some of the background materials contain information that are confidential according to the Security Act’s section 12, first paragraph, according to section 11. We have assessed that the confidential information not be re-classified, according to the Regulation on Information Security sections 2-10 and 2-13. Information is recent and relevant conditions on which the classification is based have not changed. This information should thus be exempt from insight based on the Freedom of Information Act section 13, first paragraph. Based on this, the documents in their entirety will be exempt; following the confidential information’s constituting the key parts thereof, according to the Freedom of Information Act section 12, letter C.

Impact assessed or not?

The Ministry of Transportation claims to have followed the government’s impact assessment regulations, without their wanting to tell how. Experts have argued that a case like this should have had an impact assessment.

Therein lies this case, somewhere between the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Justice. It is a question of the latter’s budget, however, the former is the publisher of the ‘report’ – and the government keeps withholding this report.

Articles in High North News - in English - about Svalbard Airport.

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