Analysis: ICESAVE Bill Passed With Narrow Majority

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Analysis: ICESAVE Bill Passed With Narrow Majority

Althingi parliament passed the Icesave bill with a narrow majority, late last night after a hard, day-long debate. As 33 MP’s voted yes to the bill, 30 were against, someone shouted “treason” in the auditorium, reported Fréttabladid.

Two government MP’s voted against the bill, Lilja Mósesdóttir and Ögmundur Jónasson, both from the Left-Green party. The government got a hand from Thráinn Bertelsson, an independent MP, who voted for the bill. All other opposition MP’s voted against the bill.

The Icesave bill will implement a state guarantee on the payments of the huge loans Britain and Holland have granted to Iceland so that the Deposit Guarantee Fund can compensate depositors who placed their money in the Icesave deposit accounts run by the defunct Landsbanki bank in Britain and Holland. Over 300,000 such accounts were created, offering the highest interest rates available in the countries on such accounts.

The Icesave bill was passed between 11p.m. – 12a.m.  last night at Althingi. Outside, a crowd of angry citizens honked car horns and set off fireworks to protest against the bill. Over 42,000 Icelandic citizens have signed a petition wherein the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, is asked to veto the bill.

Grímsson will be handed the bill this morning for signing and is likely to decide today whether he passes the bill or refuses to sign it, Morgunbladid reported. The InDefence group which has collected the names for the petition will hand them over to Grímsson today. If the President vetoes the bill a national referendum should be held to decide the matter.

Before the bill was passed a motion to postpone the bill was hindered with 35 MP’s voting against and 28 voting for.

A motion, put forward by Pétur H. Blöndal, of the Independence Party, to have a national referendum on the bill was also denied by Althingi’s majority.

The Icesave bill has been debated all this year at Althingi. Yesterday some new information from the law firm Micschon de Reya was debated but the firm assisted the Icelandic negotiating team in the Icesave negotiations with Britain and Holland.  The opposition argued that the chief of the negotiating team, Svavar Gestsson, had intentionally withheld crucial information in a document presented to Foreign Minister Össur Skarphédinsson. This was denied by Gestsson, who sent a letter to the Budget Committee of Althingi where he said that “this was far from being the truth.”

Gestsson said in his letter., “I am not familiar with the description of the matter that is put forward in the letter of Mischon de Reya…The law firm, on the other hand, emphasized greatly that the matter was delicate.”

The minority of the Budget committee wanted Gestsson to appear before the committee and Kristján Thór Júlíusson, MP for the Independence Party, said that Gestsson had declined to appear.

Midday yesterday, the law firm then issued a statement claiming that Svavar Gestsson had not tried to withhold information from the Foreign Minister. But the statement also said that Gestsson had not thought it was right that information about possible grounds for a legal case against the British Financial Authority would be introduced to the Foreign Minister.

Bjarni Benediktsson, the chairman of the Independence Party, said in his speech at Althingi that the government was turning the debt of a private company into the debt of the Icelandic public, without law and judgment. “I especially want to protest the claim that Iceland would be in a worse position if we said no to this bill than agreeing to it,” said Benediktsson.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, leader of the Progressive Party, said: “Now, they see all kind of snags about having a national referendum because they know that the nation would never agree to this.”

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, MP of the Citizens Movement, said: “I fear that the foundations of our society will break if this bill is passed. I fear that the public will give up and flee the country.”

Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir said that it was a “dangerous game” not to pass the bill. “It is also not an option to further postpone the passing of the bill for weeks or for months. That is also a dangerous game,” she said.

Finance Minister and leader of the Left Green Party, Steingrímur J. Sigfússon said that the opposition had been hard-boiled in its stance against the Icesave agreement.  He said it was his firm belief that the economy would start improving next year. “If I did not believe this, I would not stand here,” said Sigfússon.