Persson criticised for two-page tsunami report

The commission set up to investigate the government’s handling of the tsunami disaster has said that the information provided by Prime Minister Göran Persson’s office is insufficient. Persson’s staff have handed over only two pages of information on their actions following the tsunami.

Having read the two pages the head of the commission, Johan Hirschfeldt, has asked to interview civil servants and political appointees in the office.

Hirschfeldt said that he would not make public his opinion of the material. But Gustav Fridolin, Green Party member of the parliamentary constitutional committee, said that the submission was “very thin”. He added that in the best case scenario the government was hiding something, and in the worst case the government had done no more than was described on the two-page document.

The foreign ministry’s submission to Hirschfeldt was more detailed. An internal investigation into its actions published on Monday said that there were failures in the ministry’s operational leadership. The dossier shows that senior staff from the ministry kept in contact by telephone, which led to confusion and meant that information about the number of Swedes affected did not spread.

The absence of Jan Nordlander, the ministry’s head of consular affairs, was particularly damaging to Sweden’s efforts to tackle the crisis as it unfolded on 26th December. He was spending Christmas in Bergslagen, 200 kilometres from Stockholm. Other senior staff also stayed on holiday with their families.

By way of contrast, the report showed that the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok was quick off the mark in its response. Kaarlo Lasko, second in command at the embassy said in a radio interview on 26th December that there could be as many as 30,000 Swedes in the affected area. The report showed that this information was passed to the foreign ministry just two hours after the disaster.

Foreign minister Laila Freivalds was informed at 10 o’clock the same morning, although at this stage the focus remained on aid to Sri Lanka, despite the evidence that Swedes could have been hit.

Freivalds, who has faced heavy criticism for her handling of events, is now also being criticised for her attempts to pass the buck. Tuesday’s Expressen listed all the different groups that the foreign minister has tried to blame for Sweden’s late reaction to the tsunami. Freivalds had tried to blame Sweden’s ambassador in Thailand, junior staff at the foreign ministry, the Thais, her press secretary, the media and Christmas for perceived failings in the ministry’s response to the disaster, the paper said.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Göteborgs Posten, Sveriges Radio, Expressen