esmaspäev, oktoober 16, 2006

Is Resignation Really the Answer?

As EuroNews reports, a second minister in Sweden's new government has resigned amidst scandal. The big scandal? Not paying taxes on her nanny or television license fees.

Sweden's culture minister has resigned, the second cabinet member to leave the Swedish government in two days. Cecilia Stego Chilo [pictured] said her failure to pay her television licence fee for 16 years and the fact that she had not paid employer taxes when taking on a nanny "was not acceptable". On Saturday, Sweden's Trade Minister, Maria Borelius, resigned, after newspaper reports accused her also of employing a nanny without paying taxes or social contribution fees.

The new Swedish government's first week in power has been one of mounting embarrassment. After winning elections in September, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt only named his cabinet just ten days ago. Another cabinet member has also admitted not paying television fees.


In the United States, Don Rumsfeld has held on to his post as Secretary of Defense despite being challenged from within the Republican Party and the military establishment over his handling of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Rummy has refused to step down. But in Sweden if you don't pay your television license fee, you are unfit to hold office?

This reminds me of another northern country, Estonia, where other aspiring 'corruption-free' governments have seen resignation after resignation over matters that do not even explicitly taint the government official.

For example, Jaak Jõerüüt stepped down as defense minister in 2005, not because he himself had done anything wrong, but because some ministerial employees had worn controversial t-shirts. And the Parts government fell just because the Riigikogu wouldn't endorse an anti-corruption bill.

What is accomplished by ceremonial resignation? Does it leave the state stronger or weaker in the end when ministers prefer to step down than take the heat of critical media? Is resignation really the answer?

8 kommentaari:

helsinkian ütles ...

C'mon, it's not the tv licence fee that is at issue. In Stegö Chilò's case it did matter, however that as minister for culture she was responsible for public service tv.

Tobias Billström didn't pay his tv licence fees for ten years but as he has no kids, no nanny, he's cool and he stays on.

Maria Borelius resigned not only because of the nanny and unpaid tv licence fee. She resigned because she *lied* about why she didn't pay the tax for the nanny. She said she couldn't afford to pay for it. Now she's a rich and successful businesswoman and her husband is super-rich by Swedish standards. There was a problem with her perception of reality if she really thought she didn't have the money. That was far more alarming than actually not paying the fees and taxes. On top of it all she hadn't reported a stock deal on time and she had thus broken insider trading rules. That was what broke the neck of the camel. Her family's summer cottage was also owned by a company in the tax haven of Jersey, purely for the purpose of avoiding the Swedish property tax. That was the legal part of what she had done but still unpopular.

Stegö Chilò (Swedish media pronounce Chilò the Italian way, I assume they are correct in doing so) had a similar problem about *lying* why she hadn't paid. Not paying for your tv fee is ok but lying about it apparently wasn't. Privately she had been bragging about not paying and said she wishes they would sue her for not paying the fee, yet when she got caught her excuse was she had forgotten to pay.

So the two ministers had the wrong attitude. Tobias Billström was open and honest about not paying. He said he had been 22 when he first chose not to pay, he was young and stupid and thought Swedish TV sucked. So another 10 years went on and now that he became minister he changed his mind, wants to pay and is willing to pay for the ten years retroactively. He is indeed allowed to do that and no-one asks for his resignation just because he didn't pay his tv licence fee.

Both outgoing ministers were essentially perceived lying about it why they hadn't paid. That's why so many Swedes and indeed influential people within their Moderate Party wanted them to go.

Giustino ütles ...

Both outgoing ministers were essentially perceived lying about it why they hadn't paid. That's why so many Swedes and indeed influential people within their Moderate Party wanted them to go.

But why do these people get nominated and accept the posts in the first place? And if the government deems them worthy of their positions, then why do they so easily step down and resign?

Are government posts so easily traded? How little does one have to do to be justified in resigning?
How many qualified candidates do you have to go through just so you can find one who is 'clean.'

This reminds me of the Kimba Wood case in the US. Clinton wanted to nominate her to be Attorney General, but she had similar 'nanny issues.' And so they had to go find a perhaps less-qualified candidate [Janet Reno] to take her place.

I guess that the party leaders in Sweden are flush with experienced candidates. Also, Blidt should change the photo he has up on his website. He's in bad company.

In the case of Estonia, I find the public shaming/resignations occuring in Sweden quite similar.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Resignation is a normal process in parliamentary democracies, where a minister takes responsibility for something (s)he has done or something the ministry has done wrong. It is called taking responsibility.

The US system is a presidential system, where cabinet secretaries essentially serve at the president's pleasure. Completely different system. If there is a resignation, it reflects badly on the president.

It is just a difference in political culture. I think this US system of not taking responsibility is very bad (againt he Rumsfelt example), but when someone does step down it means so much more. In Europe when someone resigns it is more standard -- but when someone does not, it looks more dramatic.

Giustino ütles ...

It is just a difference in political culture. I think this US system of not taking responsibility is very bad (againt he Rumsfelt example), but when someone does step down it means so much more. In Europe when someone resigns it is more standard -- but when someone does not, it looks more dramatic.

Good points. I don't recommend the Rumsfeld model to anyone, but at the same time, I have to wonder if having new ministers all the time HELPS the country overall. Is it so easy to take over, for example, the position of foreign minister?

helsinkian ütles ...

The US system is different but there are resignations there too. Especially typical is when a member of the House of Representatives resigns, either because of a sex scandal or for corruption. This is because House members have to be constantly running for re-election, their term is only two years and they can't afford as many mistakes as many other US politicians.

I really didn't think resignations were necessary in the Swedish situation. But it does remind of Anneli Jäätteenmäki resigning from the post of Finnish PM in 2003. I also vividly remember Arja Alho resigning from the Finnish cabinet in the mid 90s. In Sweden, this brings to mind Mona Sahlin and her resignation just before she was about to become PM and Laila Freivalds having resigned twice from the Persson cabinet.

lounamaa ütles ...

"This reminds me of another northern country, Estonia, where other aspiring 'corruption-free' governments have seen resignation after resignation over matters that do not even explicitly taint the government official."

It is much more common for Estonian politicians to cling to their office as long as humanly possible. I believe the Jõerüüt case is one of the very few examples of a minister behaving according to what might be called "Nordic standards".

Giustino ütles ...

It is much more common for Estonian politicians to cling to their office as long as humanly possible. I believe the Jõerüüt case is one of the very few examples of a minister behaving according to what might be called "Nordic standards".

"As long as humanly possible" meaning no more than two years (the average government length).

I don't know, I had the impression that if Parts had given up on the corruption bill, his government might still be in office.

Since his election there's been so many minister change up - yawn (its early morning here) - it's hard to remember them all. Margus Hanson and Jõerüüt and Ligi have been defense ministers. Ojuland, Lang, and Paet have been foreign ministers.

You have to wonder if that promotes the image of Estonia as "unstable" abroad. If you are Erkki Tuoimioja and you are meeting a new Estonian foreign minister every few months, it's got to be a bit disorienting.

Still, Reiljan just stepped down after many a controversy. I believe he may have been the type that "clings to office for as long as possible."

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Estonia's anticorruption policies have worked well, the proof of it is our 4th World-wide per capita investment destination place according to UN Trade And Commerce Conference report, see here (Rus)

http://tume.blogspot.com/2006/10/blog-post_116111876292234063.html

We have always been following Nordic countries in this particular issue. And it is paying off well. Very well.