It’s never happened before. The debate on whether or not to impeach Iceland’s former Prime Minister rumbles on. Geir Haarde was the man supposedly at the helm of government during Iceland’s banking crisis in 2008, and is now awaiting trial on charges of incompetence. It’s a development that’s almost reminiscent of a post-revolutionary third-world state, or maybe Berlusconi’s madcap Italy rather than a staid Nordic democracy.
Opinions are all over the place, as always, and it’s far from certain that the former PM will ever get to court. Many Icelanders believe that it shouldn’t be happening at all. What is strange is that Geir Haarde is up there on his own, and many believe that ministers of finance, foreign affairs, and business affairs who could have been indicted at the same time should be up there with him.
The comment made by British Tory MP Julian Critchley that Margaret Thatcher was the label on the can of worms could be applied easily to Geir Haarde, and the process threatens to pillory the man on his own while others who undoubtedly have questions to answer have been allowed to move on.
It is a bizarre move to indict one single person, as the roots of Iceland’s present unhappy situation extend so much further back, possibly a decade or more to the shady deals done when Iceland’s three main largely state-owned banks were privatised and handed over to the party faithful. Landsbankinn went to friends of the Independence party, while Kaupthing was handed on a plate to deserving Progressive Party supporters.
Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time of the crash, is now serving with UN Women in Afghanistan. Former Minister for Business Affairs Björgvin Sigurdsson is still in Parliament although no longer a minister, while former Finance Minister Árni Mathíesen briefly went back to his former profession as a vet before being discreetly shuffled out of the country to a plum job in Rome with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
There is a distinct feeling in some quarters that these three should be called to account alongside Geir Haarde. All four of them must have had an inkling as 2008 progressed that something was seriously wrong at Kaupthing, Landsbankinn and Glitnir. The rest of the country knew something wasn’t right, even if they didn’t now what it was. If the foursome didn’t at least suspect something, they certainly should have done. It’s virtually inconceivable that these senior figures, including the man supposedly in charge of the nation’s money, genuinely had no idea what was happening right under their noses.
On the other hand, there’s also the real possibility that all four were painfully aware that a disaster was about to happen, but also knew perfectly well that by 2008 it was too late to avert it. The banks had outgrown themselves and were headed for the rocks with no chance of changing course.
The likeliest outcome is that none of them will be called to account. The conservative Independence Party, of which Geir Haarde is a perfect, polished product, is lobbying hard for the impeachment process to be rescinded and the outcome could go either way. But for the moment Parliament is locked into the undignified process of voting on whether or not to level charges against one of its own former senior members, practically to the exclusion of other business that plenty of average citizens would undoubtedly say deserves more urgent attention.
The issue has spread far beyond the Independence Party and the move to withdraw the impeachment has supporters across the parties – including among the far left end of the spectrum. The net result is likely to give the Social Democrats and the Left-Greens yet another opportunity to rip themselves to shreds and batter their own credibility as the opposition waits in the wings.
A cynical observer would say that when the IP is back in power after the next elections, as it undoubtedly will be as part of whatever ramshackle coalition is eventually formed, the issue of what to do with Geir Haarde will be discreetly shelved.
The conservatives don’t want to see charges brought against one of its own, any more than the Social Democrats would want to see their people hauled up before a grim-faced court of enquiry looking for answers to uncomfortable questions. It’s understandable, and more layers of complexity are added as serving MPs would presumably be called to give evidence, as well as plenty of others who were part of the circus at the time – and who knows what other guilty secrets the process could haul out into the light of day?