Labour Party and Government Coalition Parties agree on Finnmark Act
Majority behind report from the Standing Committee on Justice in the Storting
OSLO - Representatives of the Labour Party and the Government coalition in the Storting Justice Committee agreed Monday 9 May on a compromise for the wording of the Finnmark Act.
A 25-year-long battle over the right to land and water in Norway’s biggest county may thus come to an end when the Act is discussed on 24 May.
“The Finnmark Act provides for cooperation and creation of value in FinnmarkCounty, and is therefore an important link in the effort to clarify and secure the legal situation of the Sámi in Norway. An important driving principle behind this Act is equal treatment of all Finnmark citizens,” Trond Helleland (Conservative), Knut Storberget (Labour), and Finn Kristian Marthinsen (Christian Democrat) said when the majority recommendation was presented.
“County citizens get to decide”
“There will be no alterations in traditional reindeer herding, hunting, fishing and mineral extraction activities in Finnmark due to the new Act,” Justice Committee Chairman Trond Helleland (Conservative) said to NRK.
“I am very pleased that the Finnmarkians will now have decision power over the land in their own county,” Storting representative Karl Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen (Labour) said to ANB.
The proposition means that 96 percent of Finnmark’s land area, an area the size of Denmark, will be transferred from the State to the citizens of the county.
New ownership entity with 3-3 board
A new body will be formed, Finnmarkseiendommen (the Finnmark Estate), and Statskog SF will transfer the title deed to this entity.
The parties agreed that the new administrative body will be led by a board consisting of six members, three of which will be appointed by Finnmark fylkesting (the Finnmark County Council) and three by Sámediggi (the Sámi Parliament).
The Justice Committee majority recommends that special voting rules be implemented for the Finnmark Estate in cases where the utilization of outfields is to be altered, where the majority may vary between inland and coastal Finnmark in the second round of discussion.
Should there be a tie vote at the first discussion, one of the board members will withdraw.
If the case stems from the Sámi core area, one of the CountyMunicipality’s board members will withdraw. And if it concerns the rest of the county, one of the Sámi Parliament’s board members will withdraw.
This arrangement can secure a Sámi majority in the Sámi language area and a County Council representative majority for the rest of the county.
Labour and coalition parties also agree that the general public shall have access to renewable resource activities such as small game hunting, rod fishing and cloudberry picking.
If a shortage in such renewable resources occurs, the county’s own population will have priority, disregarding ethnicity. The Ministry will have the final say should there be any uncertainty as to the meaning of ‘shortage’.
Commission and tribunal will determine rights
A commission, Finnmarkskommisjonen (the Finnmark Commission) will be established for surveying, and a judicial tribunal will be created to identify collective rights for communities and individual groups who are able to refer to customary use of the outfields in their local areas.
This commission will also report on the Coastal Sámi’s rights in more detail, as a result of the consensus in the Justice Committee between the Labour Party and the coalition`s Conservative, Christian Democratic and Liberal parties.
Information Plan on the Act
The Storting majority has rejected claims for a referendum on the Act, but wants a separate information plan concerning it.
The question of rights to land and water in FinnmarkCounty, the northernmost region of Norway, has been debated for 25 years, and the Justice Committee of the Storting has worked on the proposition for more than two years since the Government presented it.
Many people have looked forward to the rights situation finally being resolved, whereas others have feared that the practical outcome of the Act’s implementation will be privatization of FinnmarkCounty.
“Many such beliefs are based on misunderstandings about the actual content of the Act. There is now a need of a general acceptance of the Act in FinnmarkCounty, and we have therefore requested a special information plan from the Government,” Helleland, Storberget and Marthinsen said during the presentation of the compromise proposition in Oslo.The Finnmark County Council will discuss the proposition on 12 May, and the Sámi Parliament will present its statement the day after. The report on the Finnmark Act will then be discussed in the Odelsting on 24 May.
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi