Corruption among officeholders has not been a serious problem in Iceland. It does occur in the form of politicians granting favors, and in some instances, paying for personal goods with public funds. Post-2006 regulations on political party support might also prevent any such problems in the future, as political parties were not previously required by law to disclose the sources of their funds. It is very rare that officeholders in Iceland are put on trial for corruption. In May 2007, however, shortly before the elections, it came to the media’s attention that the girlfriend of the son of Minister of Environmental Affairs Jónína Bjartmarz had been granted Icelandic citizenship on a fast track. The minister stated that she had had no knowledge of the matter, and remained in office. No legal process followed as a consequence of this issue.
The state has no policy specifically addressing corruption, under the premise that no such policy is necessary. By contrast, the Swedish government recently (2007) set up a new Corruption Unit to investigate private as well as official corruption. To be sure, Transparency International’s corruption perception indices for Iceland suggest that corruption – in the narrow sense of abusing public office for private gain through bribery – is largely absent. Yet while other, more subtle forms of corruption are harder to quantify, they almost surely exist. The collapse of the Icelandic banks in 2008 and the subsequent investigation by, inter alia, the parliament’s Special Investigation Commission (SIC), has brought to light the subservience of the government and state administration to the banks. This was expressed through weak restraints on their phenomenally rapid growth, as well as lax supervision during the pre-bust boom period. Moreover, it has come to light that three of the four main political parties, as well as individual politicians, accepted large donations from the banks and affiliated concerns. Public officials are not required to declare their assets or potential conflicts of interest. However, the SIC reported that of 63 members of parliament, 10 owed the failed banks €1 million or more each at the pre-crash exchange rate of the króna, with their personal debts ranging from €1 million to €40 million. The average debt of the 10 members of parliament, including the leader of the Independence Party, his deputy, and five other party comrades, was €9 million.
Many appointments to public office, in the courts as well as in the central bank, are politically motivated rather than based on merit – appointment corruption might thus be the right term for this persistent practice.
Special Investigation Commission (SIC) (2010),“Report of the Special Investigation Commission (SIC) ,” report delivered to Althingi, the Icelandic Parliament, on 12 April.