Aid minister “never thought to call foreign minister”

The parliamentary constitution committee's inquiry into the Swedish government's response to the tsunami disaster continued on Tuesday with Minister for International Development Carin Jämtin.

Jämtin told the committee that on Sunday 26th December she discussed what could be done about the Swedes who had been affected with civil servants and other colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But the minister was later told that the foreign ministry’s consular unit was working at full capacity and that any discussion about Swedes in need of emergency assistance would be dealt with there. That, she said, is why she focused her attention on sending aid to Sri Lanka.

Carin Jämtin called the head of the consular unit, Jan Nordlander, on the Sunday afternoon. In the course of the conversation Jämtin was informed that there were around 20,000 Swedes in the area and that “in some way” Swedes had been affected.

“But I can’t remember if we talked about Swedish fatalities,” she said.

It was also confirmed for Jämtin that the foreign ministry knew that the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA) was at its disposal to help Swedes. She was told in that conversation that there would not be any support sent in the next few hours because it was unclear what was needed.

“I had no reason to believe that the consular unit’s judgement would not be correct,” she said to the committee.

On the Monday morning Carin Jämtin spoke on the telephone with defence minister Leni Björklund about what could be done to help Swedish citizens in distress. She did nothing more to check that assistance was on its way to Thailand.

“I was completely occupied with one of the biggest relief operations we’ve ever done,” she said.

On the Monday afternoon the rumour that the SRSA’s efforts were being blocked by the ministry of defence reached Jämtin. She called the defence minister again.

Nevertheless, the green light for the SRSA to head to Thailand did not come until the Monday evening.

Jämtin claimed that even if she was the only minister at work on the Sunday her responsibility was still primarily aid relief.

She admitted that she never considered ringing foreign minister Laila Freivalds.

“I have regretted the fact that I didn’t call, but I don’t think it would have made any difference,” she said.

The main reason for Jämtin not calling Freivalds was that she knew that the consular unit was working on the matter. But the Minister for International Development also decided not to call because she did not want to disturb Freivalds.

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TT/The Local