Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for April, 2016

Minke whales still being hunted

Although Kristjan Loftsson from Hvalur announced in late February that fin whales will not be hunted off Iceland this summer (he was the person responsible for this), the smaller minke whales are still being hunted, albeit in small numbers as it’s difficult to find them near Reykjavik where the minke whaling company is based. The first minke whale for the season has now been caught.

The minke whalers use the same bay for catching whales as the whale watchers use, though in theory the whalers must not enter the protected area which the whale watching boats use. Whale watching has become immensely popular, and latest estimates say that the number of tourists going whale-watching this year will exceed the total population of Iceland (about 330,000). Whale-watching is obviously more viable than minke whale hunting, as well as providing more jobs and more government revenue.

The whale-watching companies are pressing for their area to be expanded, but the minke whalers object to this. Given that only 29 minke whales were caught last year, I feel the interests of the whale-watching companies greatly outnumber those of the minke whalers (which now are only represented by one company).


Disgruntled Icelanders demand more

The announcement of Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson as Iceland’s new Prime Minister has done little to appease the general public. In a popularity survey some time ago, only 3% of the population named him as their favourite minister (today’s poll, though, shows that 20% of the population bear a lot or quite a lot of trust towards him). When he was covering the environment ministry as well as officially being the agriculture and fisheries minister, he was definitely controversial: besides having doubts about the need for an environment ministry at all (“environmental issues can be covered by other ministries”) he also called off an official preservation order  at the last minute, due to pressure from interested parties.

He’s reformed the government with two of the MPs named in the Panama papers, Olof Nordal and Bjarni Benediktsson, still heading their respective ministries and the outgoing PM, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, still a member of the Althingi. And they’ve said that they will hold an election in the autumn instead of May 2017. The public, the government opposition parties and some members of the ruling coalition parties are demanding an immediate election, but the government want to hold the election in autumn “to ensure that all their electoral promises are carried out”. If the opposition parties filimonger, which is expected, does this mean that there will be no autumn election? That’s what some are saying.

More dirt from the Panama Papers is expected, and it is highly likely that the ruling coalition will be implicated in some way.

On a related note, three of the imprisoned Kaupthing bankers were released from open prison yesterday after spending only one year of sentences ranging from 3-4 years. They were sent to Vernd, a halfway house for prisoners, where they will spend the next year or so before being released with ankle bands. OK, so the law has been changed recently to allow prisoners to spend less time in prison itself and more time under some kind of supervision, but the timing of their release  was not particularly opportune. The prisoners’ association is complaining of discrimination.

Meanwhile, noisy protests are continuing daily, both outside the Althingi and anywhere else that seems appropriate. And believe me, they won’t stop.



Iceland’s ruling coalition should step down

A record number of demonstrators assembled outside the Icelandic Althingi parliament building late afternoon today to demand the resignation of Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (SDG), and his government after revelations uncovered under the name of Panama Papers last night. A record number of demonstrators turned up, to fill not only the square in front of the Althingi building but also surrounding streets.

In the programme last night, SDG walked out in the middle of being interviewed. Not good. It was also revealed that he had been lying about his involvement in his wife’s offshore company Wintris. Not good. And he had sold his shares in the company to his wife for a grand total of $1 the day before a change in the law which would have required him to disclose such interests. Not good at all. SDG has been very reluctant to talk to the press and walked out of the Althingi just after the first item on today’s agenda, unprepared questions.

The Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who has also been named in the Panama Papers, has been on holiday for 16 days and missed his flight back to Iceland this morning because of a delay in his connecting flight. Why he arranged to travel back to arrive in Iceland to arrive around 6.30 a.m. on the day the Althingi starts functioning again after Easter is another question that hasn’t been answered. He will be questioned thoroughly tomorrow.

Other politicians have also been shown to have assets in tax havens.

In most countries, when a politician is involved in a scandal of some kind, he/she resigns. But it doesn’t look like that will happen in Iceland. At least not at the moment. The government opposition have proposed a vote of no confidence and want the government to resign but at the moment that hasn’t been put on a forthcoming agenda.

UPDATE April 5: It now appears that the Althingi will dissolve sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, another demonstration has been called for today. And the Prime Minister has decided to hand over his position to Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson (SIJ), vice-chair of the Progressive Party. Which isn’t much consolation, as SIJ was pretty disastrous as “environment” minister.

Reykjavík Media, which researched Iceland’s part in the Panama Papers scandal, says that the around 600 Icelanders have links with 800 companies in tax havens like Panama. It will be interesting to see whether any of the Presidential candidates (13 at present) have links to these.