Theater of Cruelty

Norwegians are also human beings, and corruption is not a rare, exotic or embarrassing disease. It is as common as a cold.

I have been investigating corruption and fraud for over 20 years, and spent half my time in Norway. 


For someone who owns 100 000, a two percent loss may not be of significant significance. However, if you have 5000 kroner, a loss of 2000 kroner will be well marked.
The organization Transparency International has for many years been a leading, independent voice against corruption. When we prepare tables of the countries in the world with the least and most corruption, Norway always comes out well. This has been the case ever since the first "Corruption Perception" tables were launched. Countries such as Angola – an oil-rich African country where Norwegian interests are constantly increasing – end up far down the list, as expected. Such results may give the impression that each of Angola's 24 million inhabitants is more corrupt than the around five million individuals in Norway, despite the fact that the gross domestic product – which indicates how much each individual "contributes" to the country's economy – is around 17 times higher in Norway than in Angola. If the cost of corruption in Norway is not more than two percent (which even according to conservative estimates would be reasonable), this would amount to around 17 Norwegian kroner per person. This sum constitutes about half of the gross domestic product per person in Angola, a country where the wealth to a far greater extent than Norway is distributed to a few people at the top.

Usual. I usually stay out of media debates because I think the media is almost obsessed with creating sensations of old and incomplete stories of corruption. An example of this is the case of Hydro-Tajikistan, where the media both before and now have put the spotlight on "the usual suspects" like Yara, Transocean – or when they are really desperate, on Telenor.
To me, it seems that the mainstream media needs to convey that corruption, in this case in Norway, is something unusual and something the privileged elite is a part of, rather than something quite common involving us all. The media, of course, has its motives – "ordinary" and "boring" does not attract the public's attention, nor does it sell newspapers.
In the February issue of Ny Tid, I read that the Norwegian authorities naively lend money to corrupt dictatorships, and how the money is "stolen" from the national economy. In the February issue, it was Ukraine that was mentioned. But it could just as easily have been Angola, Azerbaijan, India, Myanmar, Tajikistan or any other country where Norway operates or has interests.

Denial. I have been investigating corruption and fraud for over 20 years. Half the time I have spent in Norway, often on behalf of small and large Norwegian companies, and Norwegian, governmental organizations. Although disclosing corruption and deception is one of the few things I'm good at, I'm often surprised that companies still hire me to do this job. The reason this surprises me is that almost every time I find something muffled, I encounter the same wall of denial, explanations and apologies. Almost always, I am met with an insistence that what I have found is not “proper» corruption.
An example is a well-known Norwegian fertilizer company that for more than 20 years received warnings from more than me, but who refused to take the signals seriously, and who even now try to place the blame for it all on a few single scapegoats.
Another is the so-called signature bonuses that, after all, are paid to African dictators – some of them have been placed in tax havens like Jersey, Guernsey or the British Virgin Islands or other DMCs, which I like to call them. DMC stands for Dirty Money Centers (after the computer game "Dirty Money" that NTNU made to raise awareness about corruption). At the other end of the scale, we know that large sums of money paid to private construction companies and other companies by small municipalities near Oslo are actually linked to private interests rather than to the municipality's affairs. These examples are just a few of the hundreds.

"The others." It would have been too easy to complain that nobody cares in Norway. It is a negative and naive explanation model. I have tried to look for better reasons why the corrupt reality – which I see and report to my clients – is so difficult to take in for Norwegians. First and foremost, I understand that in a rich, well-functioning and safe society such as Norway, it is obvious to people to view corruption as something unusual – something that happens in other, "corrupt" countries, not a phenomenon that happens extensively here as well. .
When I teach municipal employees or accountants at BI, NTNU or in Norwegian companies, I always ask the following questions: What is corruption? And what does corruption actually cost?
The answers I usually get to the first question vary widely, but there is a broad consensus that the term corruption refers to a number of things, small and large, that are unacceptable: everything from tax fraud, gifts and small smears to larger forms of scams like big bribes and thefts. Also matters with money, reputation or work culture. They almost always respond that costs correspond to between two and five percent – if not more – of the organization's budget. The figures they themselves provide are actually large numbers which indicate that corruption is perfectly normal. Interestingly, the numbers I get disclosed have also been higher during my 20 years as a speaker.

Rich and sweeping. Then the question becomes: When corruption is actually considered normal in Norway, and which involves large costs for the organizations – why at the same time is it considered something sensational and unusual? The media plays its part in misleading people, but it is also the very nature of humanity that is going on here: You can acknowledge that corruption exists, but it is not as easy to acknowledge that it is happening among US, here at home.
Nevertheless, I think there is another important reason, which is both more indeterminate and at the same time obvious, and as I mentioned earlier: It is more obvious for a rich country like Norway to blow a bit into the costs of corruption. And when Transparency International and others bombard the media with surveys that produce rich countries (like Norway) that rene, and poor countries (such as Angola) as corrupt, it is unlikely that the common perception will change at first. In my opinion, the "Corruption Perception" tables contribute to the mistaken impression that it is the poor countries of the world who are struggling with the really high cost of corruption. As long as this is the case, most Norwegians will continue to believe that corruption is something happening elsewhere – foreign places, in Africa or in outer space.

Demands his courage. When I ask audience members and students from rich countries the following questions: "What do people with a lot of money want?", The answer is almost always: "More money." I think you could raise the same question to the national level, "What do countries with a lot of money want?", And get the same answer. Like the title track in Corruption – The Musical says: "Greed is a Bitch". Corruption – The Musical is both a show and a workshop for the audience, and is my attempt to create a forum for conversation about these issues – questions we obviously find difficult to talk about.
Isn't it time for Norway to mature to lift the lid and look right through the media-created, makeup national self-image created in the good, old "it's typically Norwegian to be good" spirit? It doesn't exactly help that the outside world also tells us that there is very little corruption in Norway, so it may require his brave Norwegians to say the obvious: Norwegians are also human beings, and corruption is not a rare, exotic or embarrassing disease. It is as common as a cold. The glimmer of hope is – as one participant in the workshop after one Corruption – The Musical-performance at the Dramatic House said – that Norway, as the most resourceful country it is, can at best contribute a lot to reducing corruption in the world. Whether this is possible remains to be seen. Perhaps the brave Norwegian who is needed is among the audience members who come and participate in the workshop.

Iyer is a corruption hunter and a theater man.
Theater man and corruption hunter

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