The Icelandic Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Jón Bjarnason, may lose his cabinet position for having prepared and made public a controversial new bill without consulting the rest of the government. The lack of comment from both coalition party leaders is not being interpreted as positive for Jón’s future.
The controversy started when the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture published its new draft fishing management bill on its website. The government’s promised changes to the current system, aimed at taking control of fish stocks away from a few large businesses and giving it to the people, have proven extremely controversial. Previous efforts have been criticised from diverse quarters as being variously unworkable, unfair and/or economically damaging. Therefore, the latest draft bill was guaranteed to make waves and be the subject of intense debate.
The bill was predictably dissected, discussed and disputed; leading Jón Bjarnason to insist it was only put online for the sake of public consultation. It was, he said, a first draft which he wanted to use public and business opinion to amend and improve. Many were not convinced by this claim however, describing it as backtracking.
The real damage was done when it came to light that the embattled minister had drafted and published the proposed new bill without the knowledge or consent of the Social Democrat Prime Minister, his Left Green party leader the Minister of Finance, or the rest of the cabinet.
When asked repeatedly by journalists about his position, Jón said yesterday that he is still minister, enjoys the support of his leaders and will remain minister. Meanwhile Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and Minister of Finance Steingrímur J. Sigfússon would not express such sentiments publicly; but neither did they strongly indicate that Jón is about to lose his job.