Auditors can examine government’s role into failed solar panel law

Speaker of parliament tells PM that regulators have the right to look into the developments that lead up to the creation of a costly solar panel law

The government cannot keep state auditors from examining issues surrounding problems with a failed solar panel law that resulted in an official reprimand for the climate minister.

After a meeting this morning, Mogens Lykketoft (S), speaker of the parliament, said auditors with Rigsrevisionen will pursue their investigation as planned.

PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) and three of her leading cabinet members, finance minister Bjarne Corydon (S), economy minister Margrethe Vestager (R), and social affairs minister Annette Vilhelmsen (SF), had sent a letter to Lykketoft saying they did not intend to answer questions or turn over documents to the auditors examining the discussions that led up to the legislation.

Lykketoft said he had examined the legalities involved and wrote his own letter to the prime minister stating that the public accounting office and the national auditor were independent entities over which he had no jurisdiction.

The original letter from the four ministers kicked off a massive wave of criticism of the government and accusations of a cover up.

Thorning-Schmidt and Corydon said the letter was not intended to obscure that facts, just ensure what they called a “principled discussion” about whether auditors should have access to the preparatory work that went into the drafting of legislation.

"We have not said we will not co-operate with the auditor general,” Thorning-Schmidt said in a press conference last week. “We just want to raise a discussion about what they should have access to.”

A messy case
The questions in the case focused on the climate minister, Martin Lidegaard (R), and laws his ministry created to promote solar energy by providing generous incentives for selling surplus energy back to the grid.

Late last year, the Climate Ministry realised that the declining price of solar panels, combined with the lucrative sell-back scheme, resulted in the number of solar panel installations rising more than ten-fold, from 5,000 at the start of the year to 70,000 by the year’s end.

The ministry then passed a law aimed at limiting the number of solar installations. The law, however, turned out to have a number of loopholes, including one that allowed large subsidised installations to be placed in agricultural fields. Lidegaard closed the loophole earlier this year, but he received an official reprimand after Berlingske newspaper exposed that he had been informed of the loophole before the law was passed.

Lykketoft said today’s letter to Thorning-Schmidt should in no way be considered a reprimand.

He also said that, separate from problems with the solar panel laws, the relationship between the government and national auditors would be examined.

“Everyone agrees that Rigsrevisionen should not review the political negotiations over a bill and everyone agrees if a case concerns a minister or official being accused of wrongdoing, then an investigative commission is the natural instrument of inquiry,” Lykketoft told Politiken newspaper.

Corydon regrets
At the time of the original letter, Corydon said the ministers were within their rights to refuse to respond to questioning.

“If standards are going to be set that evaluates all of the work done before a minister submits a bill to parliament, that they then have every opportunity to examine and reject, you are creating a new step in the way we make laws in Denmark,” Corydon told Politiken.

He now admits that the letter and subsequent handling of the government’s position were clumsy at best.

“It is obvious that it has not benefitted either the government or to myself as a representative of the government,” he said at a press conference held today at the Finance Ministry.

Corydon acknowledged the situation had led to questions about whether the government was trying to hide something from the public.

“That, of course, is a shame.”