Future of Norway's peace corps at risk as relocation looms, staff say

Førde in western Norway, where FK Norway is expected to move. Photo by: Arild Finne Nybø / CC BY-SA

The Norwegian government is facing questions over its decision to relocate the national peace corps, Fredskorpset — also known as FK Norway — out of Oslo, after it emerged that the move will be paid for from the country’s overseas development budget.

FK Norway staff and union officials have also raised concerns that the decision could spell the end of the 54-year-old organization, and that it will set a precedent for diverting development funds to meet domestic political commitments.

Staff told Devex the organization is falling victim to political manoeuvring, as the government implements a pledge to “build a regional economy” by decentralizing government staff and services to outer districts. After months of consultations, it chose to move FK Norway’s headquarters from the capital city of Oslo to Førde, an area with a small population on the country’s west coast. This was against the advice of internal evaluations, which said that such a move would “pose the greatest risk in terms of recruiting sufficient professional competence to manage FK Norway’s international work,” according to a translated government report.

FK Norway’s head, Nita Kapoor, confirmed that most of her 40-strong team are unwilling to make the move and would resign, making the future of her organisation uncertain.

“We know from other moves of this kind that an average of 10 percent of the staff move along. Exactly how many of our staff will move, we don’t know,” she said. “More or less the majority, perhaps 90 percent of my staff, might be without a job. Not tomorrow, maybe not in the next six months, but at some point when we have to turn off the lights in this office. The impact will be that this organisation will close down.”

One union, Delta, estimates that the cost of the relocation to Førde could be as high as 60 million kroner ($9.2 million). Kapoor confirmed the government has already informed her the expense will fall on Norway’s official development assistance budget, ahead of the official announcement in October when FK Norway’s 2018 budget will be set.

“We have been told that money for the move will come from [the] ODA budget. The money will have to be found from there,” Kapoor said.

FK Norway arranges reciprocal exchange programs to share experience and expertise between Norway and countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as part of the country’s development efforts. It was allocated 188 million kroner ($22 million) for 2017, according to government figures.

Erling Hess Johnsen, a member of staff at FK Norway and a representative of the trade union Samfunnsviterne, explained that the government started consulting on relocation plans in February, when three different proposals were presented for moving FK Norway out of Oslo. Johnsen pointed out that Førde was chosen even though the government’s own published conclusion — a translation of which has been seen by Devex — acknowledged it was the choice which “poses the greatest risks [of the three]” to FK Norway’s work.

Johnsen described the relocation as “a pure reaction to domestic political demands for more public work in rural Norway,” arguing that the government was “using development funds under the cover of regional Norwegian politics.”

This may set a worrying precedent for Norway withdrawing its commitments to developing nations, Johnsen added. “We are saddened. Norway proudly presents itself as a generous donor and a country which helps people as a leading example in development policy.”

The relocation was announced last week by Jan Tore Sanner, the minister for local government and modernisation, who presented it as evidence of the government “working to strengthen the labour market throughout Norway.”

“Moving FK Norway to Førde will have the best effect in terms of regional policy,” Sanner said. “This will help build a stronger regional centre in the new municipality in Sunnfjord.”

Asked whether this use of development funding would be allowed under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development rules, an OECD spokesperson said that “given that FK Norway’s running costs are funded by ODA, the Norwegian government can report the costs of relocation as ‘administrative costs’ of FK Norway, which would be covered by ODA.”

But Kapoor worries that decisions about relocation will have a lasting impact on her organisation, and on the leading role her country has taken working overseas.

“It is my fear that we may lose the capacity and competency we have,” she said, “and may not be able to rebuild the unique model of international volunteering Norway offers with equal strength.”

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About the author

  • Russell Hargrave

    Russell Hargrave is a freelance journalist and political consultant, with a special interest in development, migration, and finance. As well as Devex, he writes regularly for Public Finance, the Church Times, and politics.co.uk. He is the author of "Drawbridge Britain," a book about immigration since World War II, and advises the Liberal Democrats on refugee policy.