I’ve been watching the UK dramedy series Shameless lately, about a hopelessly dysfunctional family, which is funny but in a, well, shameless sort of way. Maybe because of the show, maybe not, but its title has been stuck in my head this past week.
The word definitely crossed my mind as I listened to former Prime Minister of Iceland Geir H. Haarde express his thoughts on the verdict the High Court (Landsdómur) had just announced over him:
“I was acquitted in all substantial matters in this case. I was convicted for one insignificant issue, so insignificant that there is no punishment for it. This insignificant issue is a formality and a violation of a formality,” Geir commented. “The verdict is ridiculous and in fact it is more than that—it is absolutely laughable.”
Geir’s supporters have simplified the conviction to “not having held enough meetings” with news parody website Baggalútur expanding on the interpretation in this story:
“Windfall at High Court: Poor Management of Meeting Schedules at Home Owners Associations
A number of janitors and representatives of home owners associations are alarmed because of the High Court’s conclusion [on Monday]. Considerable mismanagement has been noted in regard to meeting schedules at home owners associations around the country in the past years and therefore it must be considered likely that those responsible are held accountable at the High Court.
There have also been news of meetings having been canceled at scout associations, sewing clubs, reading circles and even smaller companies—and so it is clear that the work of the High Court is not nearly finished.”
Amusing, as are most of Baggalútur’s reports.
Yet, the serious and not-so-funny fact of the matter—however laughable our former prime minister may find it—remains: that he has been found guilty of violating the constitution of the very country that he governed.
The verdict says that even though it is common practice for chairpersons of political parties to informally consult with each other and then pass information on to their respective ministers, it cannot relieve the prime minister from the obligation stated in the 17th article of the constitution.
The article reads as follows: “Cabinet meetings are to be held on novelties in the law and on important administrational issues. Cabinet meetings are also to be held if a minister requests to discuss matters there. The meetings are to be conducted by […] the prime minister.”
The prime minister cannot avoid that obligation even though he is concerned that other ministers will not remain confident on matters that are of the nature that they must remain confidential, the verdict continues.
The verdict states that when Geir became aware of the risk to which the Icelandic banks were exposed, which could jeopardize financial stability in the country and thus the position of the state treasury, he should have realized that it had to be immediately investigated whether this information was true.
Information on impending danger which Geir knew about, or was bound to know about, should have been reason for him as prime minister to discuss the matter at a cabinet meeting at the earliest possible occasion.
The jury considers it fully proven that such meetings were not held promptly, calling the former prime minister’s failure to schedule them “major recklessness”.
The jury concluded that it had been clear to Geir, or should have been clear to him, that discussing the financial stability of the country with his ministers in meetings was of utmost importance and that he was obligated to do so.
How this can be dismissed as “insignificant” is beyond me.
I’ve heard people reason that it wouldn’t have prevented the collapse of the banks. Maybe it wouldn’t but taking joint effort in attempting to prevent the banks’ collapse—or at least softening the blow to the economy—at an earlier stage would definitely have been worth a try.
I guess Geir and the other ministers were just too busy trying to convince everyone that the Icelandic banks were doing great that they couldn’t be bothered.
I do agree with Geir about one thing, though, that his conviction should have come with a punishment. And why is it that we, the public, are supposed to pick up the bill for the legal costs of a man found guilty in court, albeit in only one of four charges?
The whole affair reeks politics, that much is true. The parliament made sure it would when failing to press charges against all of the ministers named as having been guilty of misconduct in office in the Special Investigative Commission report.
Geir believes all other prime minister in the country’s history are guilty of the same thing as he: not holding enough cabinet meetings.
But tell me this: did that result in the national economy getting sucked into a black hole created by the simultaneous collapse of its three biggest banks, burying people in debt?
Fact: the economy crashed on his watch and his country’s highest court has found him guilty of not serving his role as prime minister properly. If he has no shame at all, he should go ahead and take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Now that would be laughable. Shamelessly so.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org