Traffic safety chairman steps down after giving unapproved pay hike

Konservative MP did not follow proper protocol when he awarded executive director two considerable raises over the past five years

Tom Behnke (Konservative) has stepped down as the chairman of the national traffic safety council, Rådet for Sikker Traffik, today after widespread criticism and pressure from coalition party Enhedslisten (EL).

Between 2007 and 2012, Behnke, a 46-year-old MP, granted executive director Anders Rosbo two unapproved raises totalling 33 percent. Rosbo first received a 27 percent raise in 2007 and then another six percent increase this year.

Rosbo, 51, currently makes 1.1 million kroner a year, along with a 100,000 kroner bonus and a 10-percent employer-paid pension. He also drives an Alfa Romeo that is paid for by the Rådet for Sikker Traffik. If Behnke hadn’t personally altered Rosbo’s contract, then his wage increase over the five-year period would have been around eight percent.

But the problem rests in the fact that despite the Rådet for Sikker Traffik’s regulations clearly stating that the “executive director’s terms of employment and the complimenting instructions must be approved by the Justice Ministry”. Rosbo’s raises were never done approved, according to the state account auditor, Rigsrevisionen.

“When you violate regulations, and we can see that a significant sum has been awarded, then you haven’t chosen to use taxpayer money very appropriately,” Lone Strøm, the auditor general, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

The case is being looked at by Kammeradvokaten, the state’s legal advisor, and while Behnke has refused to comment on the matter, he did say that he was co-operating with the investigation.

But in a press release Behnke said the situation occurred due to a “misunderstanding” and that he was stepping down because he didn’t want the case to overshadow the work of the Rådet for Sikker Trafik.

“The director’s wage and terms of employment must be presented to the Justice Ministry and the executive committee according to regulations. That did not occur due to misunderstandings concerning who was supposed to do that,” Behnke wrote. “It’s simply a question of whether protocol was followed and, despite the misunderstanding, formally it is the chairman’s responsibility to make sure that regulations are followed.”

Rosbo said that he wasn’t responsible and that he assumed protocol was being followed when he was granted the wage increases he deemed were fair. When Rosbo took over as head of Rådet for Sikker Traffik five years ago, it was losing money. Since then, it has turned a profit each year.

“It’s the employed person’s right to ask for wage negotiations and I’ve done that in accordance with the rules with the board of directors twice in the past five years,” Rosbo told Jyllands-Posten.

The news of Rosbo’s unsanctioned wage increases at a time when Denmark is gripped by financial turmoil failed to sit well with members of parliament. The left-leaning Enhedslisten demanded that Behnke be removed from his post as chairman. And later in the day it got its way.

“If he doesn’t want to step down voluntarily, then he must be removed by the Justice Minister,” Enhedslisten spokesperson Pernille Skipper told Jyllands-Posten prior to Behnke’s announcement.