The Norwegian public administration and Norwegian society in general are characterised by transparency. All citizens are encouraged to participate actively in society and political debate. This is the basis for our democratic form of government.
Our experience is that an open government is more effective and better able to govern. Openness with regard to budgets, government revenues and expenditures and the national economy increases predictability and confidence in the economy and the markets, strengthens the economy and lays the groundwork for stronger economic and political development. When more people participate in civic life, we can make use of their talents, resources and contributions. It has been particularly important to facilitate women’s full participation in society, but this also applies to minorities, young people and the elderly.
Our approach to openness and participation has been developed step by step over the years, and enjoys broad-based political support. It has been based on extensive cooperation between the authorities and civil society. The active engagement of civil society organisations and this long-term cooperation have built confidence and strengthened this approach.
Norway’s active participation in the Open Government Partnership is based on our experience and relevant policy measures, which we will continue to develop, and on our interest in sharing our experience with other countries.
1. Transparency in state finances, the national budget and government accounts
Norway has a long-standing tradition of publishing transparent and comprehensive budget documents. All relevant budget documents are made publicly available in print and online. The national budget sets out the Government’s economic policy, including key fiscal policy considerations, as well as the outlook for the Norwegian economy. The national budget is debated in the Parliament.
The budget document is approved by the Parliament after receiving the Government’s draft budget. There are no restrictions on the Parliament’s authority to determine and change allocations. The budget document encompasses all government revenue and expenditure so that necessary trade-offs between policy options can be addressed. Allocations are made on a one-year basis and revenue and expenditure are presented in gross terms. Monthly accounting reports are published on the government website and show the progress made in implementing the budget. The year-end account and report shows compliance with the budget allocations authorised by the Parliament. The audit and monitoring of government accounts and activities are carried out by the Office of the Auditor General, which is accountable to the Parliament and independent of the executive branch of government.
2. Transparency in the petroleum sector and revenues from oil and gas extraction
Transparency and integrity are leading principles in the management of the Norwegian petroleum sector ever. Norwegian citizens are entitled to know which companies are operating on the Norwegian continental shelf and how much tax and other income is paid into the state treasury. It was thus natural for Norway to support the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) when it was launched in 2002. Norway assumed responsibility for the EITI secretariat in 2007. So far Norway is the only OECD country that has implemented the requisite processes and measures and been formally approved as an EITI country. This was done in early 2011. The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy is responsible for Norwegian EITI implementation.
The Ministry of Finance emphasises a high degree of transparency about all aspects of the management of the Government Pension Fund. This is important for ensuring the confidence of the general public and in order to ensure that the Fund capital is managed properly. Transparency contributes to well-functioning markets and is also important for the Fund’s legitimacy with other market participants to secure good, stable framework conditions over time. The mandate given by the Ministry imposes strict requirements on Norges Bank’s reporting on its management of the Government Pension Fund Global.
3. Income and asset disclosure
According to Article 75 of the Norwegian Constitution, the Norwegian Parliament annually imposes taxes and duties (indirect taxes) only for the calendar year ahead. The reason is assumed to be twofold, partly to safeguard the population from unnecessary taxes, and partly to give a new Parliament free hands in relation to the previous Parliament. Taxes and other central government revenues are accounted for in full in the annual budgets and accounts.
Norway has developed an efficient system of tax and duty assessment and collection. These systems are regulated by law, as are all important aspects of collection and administration. Tax returns must be submitted by the taxpayer to the tax authorities in the beginning of the year following the tax year. All persons paying wages or similar remuneration must report to the tax authorities any amount paid and the name and address of the recipient. Similarly, all banks, financial institutions and insurance companies have an obligation to report to the tax authorities details of their clients’ financial standing.
The assessment procedures are normally finalised in the autumn of the year after the income year. A Notice of Assessment is then submitted to each taxpayer, and the tax lists are made public. Thus taxable net income and taxes levied on all individuals are publicly available information. The taxpayer has a right to appeal to the assessment board within six weeks after receiving the Notice of Assessment. The taxpayer may also bring the tax claim before the courts.
4. Public review, public consultation
All important decisions are subject to public review and consultation.
The purpose of the Norwegian public consultation system is twofold:
- To provide the best possible basis for making public policy decisions
- To ensure that affected parties and other stakeholders have an opportunity to express their opinions.
New policy proposals are often made by government-appointed committees made up of experts and stakeholder representatives.
The financial and administrative consequences must be clarified before decisions are taken in important matters. Official committees are often appointed for this purpose, made up of experts and/or stakeholder representatives. The committees submit proposals for measures, new legislation, etc. Such proposals are submitted for general review and public consultation. During the consultation process, affected parties and all other parties with an interest in the matter at hand may express their opinion on the proposal. Therefore, it is important that the proposals are written in good, user-friendly language. All public consultation documents, including the comments received, are made public as provided by law.
5. Freedom of information legislation, electronic correspondence record
Freedom of information and transparency are fundamental principles of Norwegian administrative law. The right to access documents in the public administration is set out in the Freedom of Information Act (Act of 19 May 2006 No. 16). The purpose of this Act is to facilitate an open and transparent public administration, and thereby strengthen freedom of information and expression, democratic participation, legal safeguards for the individual, confidence in the public authorities and control by the public. The main rule is that case documents, journals and similar registers of an administrative agency are public except as otherwise provided by statute or by regulations pursuant thereto, and any person may apply to an administrative agency for access to case documents, journals and similar registers of that agency. As a general rule, such person has a right to copies of such documents free of charge. Where there is occasion to exempt information from access, an administrative agency shall nonetheless consider allowing full or partial access. Information that is subject to a statutory duty of confidentiality is exempted from access. Any person whose request for access has been refused may lodge an appeal. Many exemption provisions specify that exemptions must be necessary or required. In many cases only the information may be exempted.
Documents in the public administration are registered and the record is made publicly accessible. The records of most of the central government agencies and entities in Norway are published on the website “Electronic Public Records” at www.oep.no
. The records are open to the public and any person may order copies of documents registered there free of charge without stating any grounds or his or her name.