Ritstjóri Herðubreiðar 12/04/2015

Tilvitnun forsætisráðherra í skýrslu kröfuhafa var tilvitnun í Ásmund Einar Daðason. Herðubreið birtir dæmi um „leyniskýrslu“

Sigmundur DavíðÞað mat erlendra kröfuhafa, að Framsóknarflokkurinn víki hvergi frá íslenskum hagsmunum, sem forsætisráðherra gerði að umræðuefni um helgina, var í raun tilvitnun í grein sem Ásmundur Einar Daðason skrifaði í Morgunblaðið í janúar á þessu ári.

Ásmundur Einar er alþingismaður og sérlegur aðstoðarmaður forsætisráðherra og varpaði ofangreindri fullyrðingu fram í greininni.

Þegar forsætisráðherra vitnaði í þessi ummæli sem mat kröfuhafa á Framsóknarflokknum var hann því að vitna í staðhæfingu síns eigin aðstoðarmanns.

Þetta kom fram í fréttum Stöðvar 2 í kvöld.

„Leyniskýrslurnar“ sem forsætisráðherra varð tíðrætt um eru í raun fréttabréf á ensku með yfirliti yfir fréttir og pólitíska umræðu og eru send fjölmörgum einstaklingum sem vilja fylgjast með umræðunni á Íslandi. Yfir þeim hvílir engin leynd eða trúnaður.

Lesendum sínum til upplýsingar, en líka til skemmtunar, birtir Herðubreið hér á eftir eitt slíkt fréttabréf í heild sinni, einmitt fréttabréfið þar sem fjallað er um grein Ásmundar Einars. Það kom út í lok janúar.

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Overview Report nr. 74

 

  • Never have so many been fully employed: 2015 the year of action
  • Signs of a serious attempt such as a new set up
  • The declarations of the PM and FM form a new literary genre
  • The Progressive Party stands firm on Icelandic interests
  • The allegations of a former owner of a foundry industry can have political consequences

 

  1. Never have so many been fully employed: 2015 the year of action

“Never have so many been fully employed in preparing for the alleviation of the capital controls”, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said Tuesday 27 January in a special parliamentary debate at this week. He acknowledged that up to now more emphasis had been on keeping up the capital controls than dissolving them. “We have become some kind of experts in maintaining capital controls”, the FM said. But now the time has come to change gear.

Islandsbanki arranged in Harpa, Reykjavik a debate on the post capital controls era with the participation of economist Lars Christensen, who became a hate object in Iceland 2006 for predicting the downfall of the Icelandic banks. There the FM declared the year 2015 as the year of action in the capital control field. In Iceland News Brief our friends at KOM report from the meeting in this way: “Among other things, Benediktsson spoke about what would happen after the restrictions in Iceland were lifted. He pointed out that changes in ownership of the Icelandic financial system lay ahead. Today two of the three biggest commercial banks—Arion Bank and Islandsbanki—were for the most part indirectly owned by foreign hedge funds, and the State owns a 98% share in Landsbanki. In parallel with this, new owners will be involved in the banks, explained the minister. It would also be necessary to answer the pressing question of how the banking system of the future ought to look. For example, how big should it be? He said he expected changes in the financial market’s regulatory scheme through the EEA Agreement, but Iceland would have to go farther in some areas. Thus, Icelandic banks will not be permitted to accumulate deposits in foreign currency without some restrictions. A second Icesave affair is out of the question. Benediktsson also said that ways had to be sought to fine-tune the monetary policy and place special emphasis on stability. In addition, consideration had to be given to the future size of the banking system. The finance minister reiterated, on the other hand, that getting rid of capital restrictions was not just an „Excel exercise“ since it would be impossible for the Government to prevent all risk. Such an approach would only mean that the restrictions would never be abolished. Conditions in the economy were now in many ways ideal for lifting the restrictions, according to Benediktsson. The prices of aluminium and seafood products are increasing, he said. Tourism is experiencing a big uptick, and data centres are attracting foreign investors.”

  1. Signs of a serious attempt such as a new set up

And there certainly are some signs of a serious attempt of the authorities to embark on the journey towards lightening the controls. One of the signs is the formalisation of a new set up of the executive task force under the steering committee for lifting the capital controls, announced at the homepage of the Finance Ministry 21 January. In goes Sigurður Hannesson on leave from the MP bank, the trustee of the PM, as a vice chairman, which also will be the title of Benedikt Árnason, the FM’s main advisor. Glenn V. Kim stays on as a chairman but out goes Freyr Hermannsson, CBI’s head of treasury, from the bank´s unruly department. In come two trustees of the Governor of the CBI, on leave from the bank, the Director of Foreign Exchange Control, Ingibjörg Guðbjartsdóttir, and the Director of International Relations and the Governor’s Office, Jón Sigurgeirsson. In Parliament the FM said that this was a measure aimed at drawing the CBI closer to the process. He didn’t mention the purpose of appointing Dr. Hannesson as one of the two vice chairmen of the group. The Supreme Court Attorney and advocate of the bankruptcy option Eiríkur S. Svavarsson remains part of the group. All in all this looks as a serious set up, preparing for the one and only shot Iceland will be allowed, in the duel ahead, as Már Guðmundsson so elegantly put it in one of his declarations.

Icelanders are found of sayings. The chairman of the Committee on Economics and Trade, Frosti Sigurjónsson, said in parliament: “As the carpenter said, it’s better to measure twice because you only do the sawing once.” That is precisely what the FM is saying.

– The work ahead in the coming weeks is not a political one but rather a continued expert work. When we are confident that we have a balanced and viable plan that will secure the stability of the economy we will present the case to the Parliament for consultation and broad rallying behind it, he said to the Parliament this week. So, from this one can deduct that no big steps will be taken in the first months of the year. And getting his plan through Parliament might be the FM´s only hope to circumvent or balance the Progressive Parties insistence on recovering what has in its view been unduly handed over to the creditors

  1. The declarations of the PM and FM form a new literary genre

The members of the opposition in the Parliament are not fully convinced by the argumentation of the FM. The MP, Björn Valur Gíslason from the Leftist Green, formerly chairman of the Budget Committee, has published a list over ca 30 declarations (often quoted in this report) of the FM and PM regarding the capital controls, the possible timing of their dissolution and necessary conditions. His findings are that the leaders of the government are steadily in conflict with each other and seemingly don’t have a clue of what they are speaking.

The leader of the Socialdemocratic Alliance, Árni Páll Árnason, said at one point that the declarations of the FM and PM had developed into a special literary genre. Helgi Hjörvar, leader of the parliamentary group of the same party asked the FM point blank, whether the aim of his was to secure economic stability out of the settlement of the estates of the fallen banks and lifting of the capital controls or to gain revenue for the state treasury. The answer of Bjarni Bendiktsson was diplomatic as usual. He has on numerous occasions stated that the main goal is stability, BoP balance and currency protection, but at the same time accentuated the need to protect Icelandic homes from shouldering more burdens from the financial crash in 2008. But he acknowledged in the Parliament that one could never be 100% sure of avoiding imbalances when capital controls would be lifted. Therefore, all has to be carefully prepared to minimize risks. At the Islandsbanki meeting in Harpa he talked about the first half of the year as a decisive period.

4. The Progressive Party stands firm on Icelandic interests

Of course this is taken by the oppositional MPs as a different approach than the Prime Minister is advocating even though the FM denies any differences in the government camp. Nevertheless, this opinion can be validated with two separate observations:

Firstly one can take an article in Morgunbladit 22 January by Ásmundur Einar Daðason, MP for the Progressive Party and a special Political Advisor to the PM, as a sign of the PM´s reasoning. The Political Advisor reminds the readers of the fines international banks have had to pay for damages they have caused by reckless behaviour in the past. He points furthermore to the taxation of the banks and the estates of the failed banks the present government has implemented in contrast to the previous government. Then he goes over to paint the strong legal position of Iceland and the tools available for the government as forcing the estates into bankruptcy or tapping them with a 20 to 50% exit tax. He maintains that foreign creditors have finally realized that the government is unwavering in its resolve to safeguard the interest of the general public. As a proof he mentions that many big creditors have sold their claims in the latter half of the last year.

The final part of the article is devoted to the new banks which have been cheeky enough to increase their interest differential even though the CBI has lowered its base rate. This is though a predicted development by MPs such as Vilhjalmur Bjarnason from the Independence Party who said last winter that an increase in bank tax would be rolled over on the customers of the banks. He has by the way also gone out against exit taxes. So much for unity in the government camp.

5. The allegations of a former owner of a foundry industry can have political consequences

The second observation is the way the Progressive Party has used the allegations of Víglundur Thorsteinsson, former owner of the bankrupt foundry firm BM Vallá, as a proof that ISK 300 – 400 billion was unduly handed out to the creditors of the failed banks when the former government moved loan assets from the old banks to the new banks in 2009.

The allegations are put forward for the third time without any new substantial evidence but followed by accusations for illegality and breach of the constitution from the part of politicians and officials. The accusations hit influential people in the Independence party and many still operating officials as well as the former Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon and his associates. It all has to do with the new banks founding balance sheets which from the start were temporary estimates aimed at being revised later by an independent part. And also whether there at some point was a change of policy regarding how creditors and the customers of the new banks should divide possible increase in value of the loan portfolios.

These allegations are a problem for the Independence Party not only because many of their trustees were involved, but also because Mr. Thorsteinsson has long been a prominent member of the Party. Furthermore, the PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has insisted that the Parliament has a duty to investigate his allegations

„There it comes to light what I and others in my party have pointed out since the beginning of 2009—i.e., that there was a tremendous opportunity there to turn the example around for the benefit of the public and, not least, indebted households,“ said the PM. „The opportunity was not utilized, and what we see now in these new documents is that people not only let a chance slip through their fingers to utilize the opportunity but also directly reduced the chance of the opportunity’s utilization, thus circumventing the Emergency Act,“ said the PM in a comment. The chairman of the Progressive Party´s parliamentary group, MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir, has also been very supportive of Mr. Thorsteinsson allegations and voiced her condemnation about the way the former government “privatized” the new banks. Vice-chairman of the Parliament’s Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, MP Brynjar Nielsson, has got the hot potato in his hand and is going to find out whether there is something substantive in the allegations that laws were broken when the new banks’ founding balance sheets where put together. A memorandum is due soon.

The E-website Kjarninn has a commentary today, 30 January, saying that Mr. Thorsteinsson’s allegations are just crap, but predicts at the same time that the PM’s support for them and his statements in connection with them are bound to have political consequences.

Here we have food for a typical Icelandic debate which could develop into endless haggling about details and secondary issues where the core of the matter will soon be forgotten, but an opportunity will have been found to form opposite camps. The Progressive Party may be in need for such a polarization as its following is down from 24% in the last election to a one digit number in the latest NMR poll in spite of a successful implementation of the loan forgiveness project, the party’s big election promise.

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