Opposition Leaders Question Government Mandate

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, the leaders of the opposition reacted to Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s decision to resign. The Chair of the Pirate Party’s Parliamentary Group held that the government’s mandate was “completely compromised” while the Chairs of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Reform Party questioned the coalition’s ability to address the most pressing issues facing Icelanders. The Chair of the People’s Party hoped that Bjarni’s resignation would set a new precedent in Icelandic politics while speculating that Bjarni might switch roles within the government.

“Completely compromised”

Following the resignation of Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson yesterday, RÚV solicited reactions from leaders of the opposition parties. The Party Group Chair of the Pirate Party stated that the mandate of the government was completely compromised.

“It’s important to note that the mandate of this government is completely compromised, especially since the Prime Minister and other leaders within the government have fully supported the Finance Minister’s governance up to this point,” Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir, the parliamentary group leader of the Pirate Party, told RÚV yesterday.

“They should, therefore, see every reason to seriously reconsider their position in light of the ombudsman’s conclusion. And this, of course, applies to Bjarni as well.”

An unexpected decision – but the right one

Kristrún Frostadóttir, Chair of the Social Democratic Alliance, admitted that the resignation had been unexpected: “In some ways, this is an unexpected decision, but it’s the right one. He is taking responsibility, and I agree with him to the extent that as a minister, he could no longer fulfil his duties.”

Kristrún also contemplated the future of the government: “I believe the entire government needs to address whether it can truly handle the tasks at hand that matter most to the people. I’m thinking about economic issues and major welfare matters.”

Government mandate weakened

Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Chair of the Reform Party, echoed Kristrún’s sentiments.

“It’s clear that when the leader of the largest party in the government steps down from a crucial ministry like the Ministry of Finance, it weakens the government. We repeatedly see this government expend their energy on internal disputes rather than focusing on what matters most to households and businesses in the country, namely inflation and the battle against interest rates.

A precedent is set

Inga Sæland, Chair of the People’s Party, told RÚV that Bjarni’s resignation had marked a turning point in Icelandic politics, as he had taken political responsibility, hopefully setting a precedent for the future: “We’re not used to seeing a minister step down like this without being pressured out of office with significant hullabaloo.”

However, Inga speculated that Bjarni might not be leaving politics altogether. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he switches to another ministry. There are only two possibilities: he either moves to another ministry or resigns from parliament, and I’m not sure if that’s good for his party as a whole.”

Nonetheless, Inga believes that Bjarni’s resignation did not mark a turning point for the coalition government. “It will try to endure despite everything.”

New Ministerial Role for Bjarni a Possibility, According to PM

Yesterday, Bjarni Benediktsson announced his resignation from his ministerial post following a formal opinion by the Parliamentary Ombudsman regarding the sale of Íslandsbanki. In an interview with Vísir yesterday, PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that she supported his decision, emphasised the coalition government’s stability, and dismissed rumours of early elections.

Decision was entirely Bjarni’s

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that Bjarni Benediktsson’s decision to resign from his ministerial post had been commendable and appropriate, stressing that the decision had been entirely his.

Katrín affirmed the coalition’s stability and refuted suggestions of imminent elections. There is speculation that Benediktsson may take on a different ministerial role. “This is, of course, a significant decision that the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs has made, and he thoroughly discussed it at (yesterday morning’s) press conference,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir noted.

A snap press conference

During a press conference yesterday, Bjarni Benediktsson cited the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s critique on the Íslandsbanki sale as his reason for resigning. The Ombudsman highlighted a potential conflict of interest, noting Bjarni’s father was among the buyers when Bjarni approved the sale through the Icelandic State Financial Investments (ISFI). While Bjarni expressed disagreement with the Ombudsman’s view, he chose to respect it and subsequently announced his resignation.

“I find this decision to be very commendable. I believe that the Minister of Finance, at every stage of this matter, even though he has been criticised, has sought to take responsibility for this action. Perhaps one can say that this responsibility became final today, with this decision,” Katrín observed.

When asked if she felt it was right for Bjarni to resign in this situation, Katrín stated that the decision was entirely Bjarni’s to make. “But I have a deep understanding of this decision and respect it. We, of course, discussed this beforehand, and there were various aspects to consider. But I believe he did the right thing,” Katrín stated, adding that she neither demanded nor wished for Bjarni to step down.

Big tasks ahead

As noted by Vísir, the leaders of the governing parties discussed Bjarni’s resignation at a cabinet meeting yesterday. When asked about their discussions, Katrín replied that the three leaders had simply reviewed the situation. “Given the nature of the matter, it affects the collaboration of these parties when the leader of one party decides to step down from his position.” The government is now facing major tasks, especially in economic matters.

A significant political decision

Katrín told Vísir that she and Bjarni had not discussed his possible resignation in the event that the Ombudsman deemed that the latter had been unqualified to handle the sale: “The Minister of Finance briefed me on the Ombudsman’s stance beforehand. We deliberated on it collegially, examining various angles. Ultimately, the decision was his, and it holds substantial political implications.”

Katrín further emphasised the coalition government’s resilience, asserting that its leadership structure would remain intact despite Benediktsson’s departure. The upcoming days would be spent assessing the current economic landscape. A subsequent cabinet meeting would be held to formalise Bjarni’s resignation.

Responding to queries about a potential government breakdown following Benediktsson’s decision, Jakobsdóttir stated, “No. I’m confident we’re united in our commitment to address these pressing challenges.”

Bjarni to move ministries?

At yesterday’s press conference, Bjarni Benediktsson expressed uncertainty about his future role, whether as a minister, the leader of the Independence Party, or a parliament member. Addressing questions about Bjarni potentially heading another ministry, Katrín Jakobsdóttir emphasized the current focus on the Ministry of Finance.

“Our primary concern is to ensure the Minister of Finance can work effectively and be accountable for the Íslandsbanki sale. While the possibility of Bjarni leading another ministry exists, it hasn’t been a topic of discussion,” Jakobsdóttir clarified.

Vísir postulated that Benediktsson might transition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir potentially taking over Finance. Ólafur Þ. Harðarson, an emeritus professor at the University of Iceland, conveyed to RÚV that such speculations might have merit.

Ministry of Finance up for grabs

Vísir noted that Bjarni Benediktsson isn’t the sole minister under the Ombudsman’s scrutiny. The Ombudsman is currently investigating whether Svandís Svavarsdóttir breached administrative laws by introducing a whaling ban earlier this summer.

When questioned about potential repercussions if the Ombudsman identifies similar lapses in Svavarsdóttir’s actions, Katrín admitted to having heard speculations although no such thing had been discussed at the moment.

“I’ve heard speculations about this today. Of course, the Ombudsman often investigates many ministers and our official transfers. I believe it’s premature to comment on such matters in any related context. These issues can be inherently different, so we should just wait and see.”

Will the Left-Green Movement want the Ministry of Finance?

When asked if Katrín’s party, the Left-Green Movement, was interested in the Ministry of Finance, Katrín replied thusly: “We haven’t discussed the matter based on these premises. In our meeting today with the three [leaders of the governing parties], we primarily discussed the bigger picture, the tasks, and how we can ensure that we come out of this stronger than when we entered,” Katrín observed.

She doesn’t expect elections to be called earlier than scheduled. As noted by Vísir, based on a full electoral term, the next parliamentary elections are set for the fall of 2025. “Nothing has happened that warrants it, at least for now,” Katrín concluded by saying.

14 Pilots Exit Play for Icelandair Amid Global Talent Scramble

iceland budget airline play

Fourteen pilots from budget airline Play have resigned to join competitor Icelandair amid a global pilot shortage and rising wages. While acknowledging the challenge of retaining pilots, Play insists that the departures won’t impact operations and emphasizes its ongoing efforts to offer competitive salaries and benefits.

Hiring and retaining pilots a challenge

Fourteen pilots from budget airline Play have tendered their resignations after receiving job offers from industry competitor Icelandair, according to a press release from Play this morning, Vísir reports. The airline highlights a global shortage and fierce competition for qualified pilots, acknowledging that this has inflated salaries and complicated recruitment efforts.

‘Earlier this summer, it became apparent that rising wages due to competition would make it challenging to hire and retain pilots. As a result, we initiated an internal review of our pilot salaries and working conditions,” the press release noted.

Yesterday, news broke that Icelandair approached Play’s pilots with swift job offers, compelling them to make immediate decisions. “PLAY was not privy to the details of the offers due to the customary confidentiality between parties, but we received 14 resignations from pilots yesterday. While it’s always painful to lose valued team members, these departures will not significantly impact our operations or flight schedules,” the press release added.

Vísir reported yesterday that 18 pilots from Play were directly approached by Icelandair. In response, Play convened a meeting with these pilots on Wednesday evening.

According to Turisti.is, Play pilots earn a base salary of ISK 590,000 ($4,500 / €4,200), significantly lower than Icelandair’s ISK 860,000 ($6,500 / €6,000); Play subsequently offered their pilots a substantial salary increase yesterday, Vísir reports.

Complex factors in wage dynamics

In its press release, Play emphasised that pilot compensation is multifaceted and not easily comparable to other professions. “Recent reports, which are baseless, suggest this will dramatically affect our cost structure … but the impact on unit costs is negligible,” the press release clarified.

Play also took the opportunity to underscore its consistent efforts to improve employee compensation and conditions, extending beyond pilots to include flight attendants and other staff. “We would not have been able to retain our workforce if our packages were egregiously uncompetitive, as is sometimes insinuated,” the release noted.

The airline touted its role in generating approximately 550 new jobs in Iceland’s labour market within just over two years, and its contribution to reviving tourism and reducing travel costs. “Moving forward, Play is committed to offering competitive conditions to attract and retain top-tier talent as we build a company of which we can all be proud,” the statement concluded.

Substitute MP Quits Left-Greens After Immigration Bill Passes

Iceland's Althing

After the Minister of Justice’s immigration bill was approved Wednesday, substitute MP and former executive director of the Left-Green Movement, Daníel E. Arnarsson resigned from the party. He does not intend to take a seat in parliament again even if he were to be called in.

Controversial immigration bill passes

Yesterday, Daníel E. Arnarsson, the executive director of the National Queer Association of Iceland and substitute MP, took to Facebook to announce his resignation from the Left-Green Movement. The decision was made in light of his party’s support for Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill, which was approved by a parliamentary majority on Wednesday.

With the exception of Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, who were both absent, all members of the Left-Green Party voted in favor of the bill; numerous amendments were proposed, but none were accepted.

“Last night, the Minister of Justice’s immigration bill was approved, a bill that many human rights and aid organisations have fought against, as it restricts the rights of one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in our society: people seeking international protection. It is not without reason that the bill met with such strong opposition,” Daníel wrote.

No politics without responsibility

In his statement, Daníel reflected on his campaign for the primary election of the Left-Green Movement in 2021, during which he advocated for a more compassionate stance on immigration. “One of my key campaign pledges was to prioritize a more humane approach to immigration, and I was fortunate enough to garner the support of many like-minded individuals who shared this conviction,” he shared. “For this unwavering support, I will be forever grateful.”

He added that he had resigned from the party only a few minutes after the bill was passed: “There is no politics without responsibility, and I find myself grappling with this responsibility at present. Despite my efforts to impede its progression, the passage of this bill was ultimately unavoidable. As such, I must take ownership of a certain level of accountability. As soon as the Left-Green Party members voted in favor of the bill, I made the decision to step down from the movement. My resignation was, however, not entirely motivated by this sense of disillusionment.”

Heavy steps

As noted in his post, Daníel devoted seventeen years to the Left-Green Movement, which he views not simply as a political organization but as a family – the people who raised him: “This is why my actions weigh heavily upon me. I hold a deep affection for the members of the Left-Greens, but I am unable to align myself with a movement that condones the curtailment of fundamental rights for one of society’s most vulnerable groups.”

Finally, Daníel stated that even though he was a democratically-elected substitute MP for the party, he did not intend to take a seat in parliament if called in again; instead, he would refer to the next person on the party’s list in his constituency.

As noted by Vísir, Daníel took third place on the list of the Left Greens in the southern district of the Reykjavík constituency for the 2021 elections. Two of those on the Left Green’s list – Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir and Orri Páli Jóhannsson – were awarded seats in Parliament.

Another Left-Green member resigns

Yesterday, it was also reported that Elva Hrönn Hjartardóttir, a former member of the board of the Left-Green Movement, and vice chair in Reykjavík, had resigned from the party. She stated that she refused to be identified with a movement that “accepted the human-rights violations entailed in the newly-approved immigration bill”

This article was updated at 08:48 AM

Orthopedist: Surgical Waiting Lists for Children “Unacceptable”

Press photo of the year 2020

An orthopedist at Landspítalinn hospital has told the Minister of Health that surgical waiting lists for children are unacceptable. “I can’t get them into surgery within an acceptable time frame,” Sigurveig Pétursdóttir told Willum Þór Þórsson during an annual meeting of the Icelandic Medical Association in October.

“I’m on my knees”

Sigurveig Pétursdóttir, 64, has been employed as a doctor for 38 years. She’s spent 30 years working with disabled children as a paediatric orthopedist. At an annual meeting of the Icelandic Medical Association, held on October 14, Sigurveig told Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson that the state of the hospital “has never been worse.”

Read More: Mass Resignations at the University Hospital

“I’ve got children who’ve waited a year,” she called out from the assembly hall, according to a transcript of the meeting published by the Icelandic Medical Journal: “A disabled child who walks with one leg crooked for an entire year because there’s no space in the operating room. And why is there no space? Well, because the staff has quit. It’s not a matter of not having the staff. They quit. The hospital’s a mess. It’s a mess right now. It’s not going to become a mess tomorrow. It didn’t happen yesterday.”

Sigurveig preempted familiar bureaucratic talking points with the statement that all talk of analysis and assessment was unacceptable: “I’ve heard it a hundred times, but the situation has never been worse than now,” she stated. “It means nothing to me, being told that I did so well during the pandemic, not having missed a day of work.”

“I’m on my knees,” she continued. “I’m giving up, and I’m not the kind of person who gives up when things get rough. But no one will be able to walk in my shoes. No one!”

Increased funding required

Those present at the annual meeting urged the government to heed the will of the public and to increase healthcare funding. They also announced their disappointment in next year’s budget bill, urged healthcare institutions to ensure the safety of their staff, and called for actions to be taken to deal with the failing health of doctors and the growing number of healthcare professionals who are resigning from their jobs.

In late October, sixteen middle managers employed at the National University Hospital of Iceland received letters of termination. The terminations stemmed from the adoption of a new organisational chart intended to improve the hospital’s operations.

“The main purpose is to get a handle on the hospital’s management and operations, to strengthen our clinical services, and to harmonise other key services,” Runólfur remarked in an interview with RÚV.

Sólveig Anna Announces Candidacy for Efling Chair

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, who resigned as Efling’s Chairperson in October, has decided to resubmit her candidacy for the position, RÚV reports. Elections for a new board and chairperson will begin on February 9 and will end on February 15.

Resubmission of candidacy

In October of last year, Efling Union Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir resigned. Her departure followed on the heels of accusations of workplace bullying, as alleged by union staff in letters of no-confidence to her, the union, and Icelandic media.

Sólveig Anna subsequently denied the allegations, and after her resignation, union members stated, in another letter to the media, that what they had wanted was solutions – and not resignations.

Following these events, Efling voted in its first chair of foreign origin (on a short-term basis): Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska, who previously served as vice-chair of the union.

“Numerous encouraging messages”

Elections for a new board and chairperson will commence on February 9 and will end on February 15. So far, two other candidates have announced their intentions to run: Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir, Efling’s current vice-chair, and Guðmundur Baldursson, Efling board member.

In an interview with RÚV, Sólveig Anna remarked that she had decided to submit her candidacy in light of the “numerous encouraging messages” that she had received from union members. Despite these positive messages, Sólveig added that her decision had required careful deliberation: “I still spent a lot of time weighing the prospect, but in the end, having discussed it with good people, we reached this conclusion.”

Sólveig Anna will be campaigning under the banner of Baráttulistinn (the Fight List), and states that she is prepared for the campaign: “I’m certainly ready for the fight. Since I first assumed chair of the union, in 2018, I’ve been prepared to fight. Efling has made tremendous strides; we managed to transform this colossal bureaucracy, which enabled the continuation of low-wage policies, into the most powerful tool wielded by Icelandic workers.”

Iceland’s second largest labour union

As noted in an article in Iceland Review last year, Efling is Iceland’s second-largest labour union, with around 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Sólveig Anna became Efling’s chair in 2018 and led wage negotiations and strikes among City of Reykjavík employees and hotel workers calling for better wages and working conditions for low earners. More than half of Efling’s members are of foreign origin.

Namibian Ministers Resign Following Samherji Scandal

Following revelations of a fishing-quota kickback scandal, the Namibian Minister of Fisheries, Bernhardt Esau, and Minister of Justice, Sacky Shangala, have resigned, RÚV reports.

As reported by the investigative journalism programme Kveikur (produced in collaboration with Stundin and Al Jazeera Investigates) yesterday, Samherji allegedly bribed Esau and Shangala – along with three other high-ranking officials – in order to secure access to horse-mackerel fishing quotas in the country.

Leaked documents from former Samherji employee and whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson suggest that Samherji paid these individuals, mostly through companies in Namibia and Dubai, approximately ISK 1.5 billion at present value. The payments were frequently made simultaneously with Samherji’s negotiations of quota agreements with the Namibian government, agreements that rarely seemed to have been in the government’s best interest.

To fill the vacancies, President Hage Geingob has appointed Frans Kapofi as acting Minister of Justice and Albert Kawana as acting Minister of Fisheries. According to the Namibian Broadcast Corporation, President Geingob thanked Esau and Shanghala, “for their patriotism and contribution to the work of government.”

New Minister of Justice Chosen Today

Sigríður Andersen

A cabinet meeting will be held at 4.00pm this afternoon to decide on a new Minister of Justice, RÚV reports. The post was vacated yesterday when Sigríður Andersen announced she would be stepping down from the position, following a European Court of Human Rights ruling that her appointments to the Icelandic Court of Appeal violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, meant to ensure individuals’ right to a fair trial.

No such thing as “temporary leave”

Though Sigríður described her departure as temporary leave, Professor of Political Science Eiríkur Bergmann says there is no precedent for such an action in Alþingi. “A minister must be appointed to office by presidential decree. Once that happens [this afternoon], Sigríður Andersen is just as much not a minister as everyone else who is not a minister.” In order to return to the post, Sigríður would need to be reappointed officially.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson stated yesterday that it was most likely the position would be filled by a current minister or an Independence Party MP. Bjarni stated that it wasn’t out of the question for Sigríður to return to the post. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said it was too early to say whether Sigríður would return to the ministry, but previously expressed her support of her decision to step down.

Katrín and Bjarni both expressed support for appealing the European Court of Human Rights’ decision, as the outcome is consequential for the government.