Interview with independent US journalist Sam Knight, 26 October 2012

 

-You noted that thousands of people made comments and hundreds of unsolicited reports were submitted to the Constitutional Council. Did you consider this input when drafting the constitution? How did you incorporate it into your draft?

 

Yes, we read them all carefully, and responded to virtually all of them one way or another. For example, a couple of suggestions came from farmers who wanted us to make sure that the environmental protection provision protected both private and public lands from cross-fence grazing, a centuries-old problem in Iceland. Others came from internet specialists who were keen on seeing a state-of-the-art freedom-of-information clause. They got one. Their input was very helpful. One came from a Europol official who suggested a special clause aimed at facilitating the confiscation of loot in the spirit of modern European legislation that has not yet found its way into Icelandic law; we did not go for that one, not as a constitutional issue, even if the case that was made by the police officer was very well put.

 

-I noticed that the Comparative Constitutions Project at the University of Chicago praised the process (do you have a copy of their report you could send me?). But have any American politicians - perhaps on the municipal, county or state level - reached out to learn more about the Council's work? What about people from other countries?

 

American politicians have not expressed interest in Iceland’s constitutional process as far as I know. But foreign academics and journalists have. For example, a PBS TV crew of seven or eight followed a group of us around the north of the country before the vote. They said PBS would air a four-hour series on the US constitution in April 2013. The fourth hour will be devoted to foreign experiences. They said they wanted to start in Iceland. They asked some very good questions, and were well informed. Several other documentaries have been produced or are under preparation, in the US as well as in the UK. 

 

-What struck me about the referendum was the fact that the resource nationalization amendment won by the widest margin. Do you think this can be explained by the fact that individual voters are less easily influenced by lobbyists? Or is this more a general reaction to the kreppa/HS Orka deal/Huang Nubo affair?

 

This is not a matter of nationalization, not by a long shot. It is matter of the rightful owner of the country‘s natural resources being paid proper rent for the someone else’s use of the resources. It is as if you had an apartment and someone else had collected the rent for years. Opinion polls have for 30 years consistently shown about 70% popular support for having the vessel owners pay user fees – resource depletion fees, if you like – for their fishing licenses, allotted to them free of charge, or at a nominal fee from 2002, by the government. Political parties, liberally oiled by interested parties, no doubt, as they were by the bankers as was at last made public after the crash of 2008, have managed to thwart the popular will in parliament. The constitutional bill aims to correct the situation.

 

-Did lobbyists or special interest groups attempt to influence the Council's work at all?

 

No, not as far as I know. They did not field candidates for the Constitutional Assembly and they did not try to intervene in the Council’s work; if they tried to so so clandestinely, they had no say. They did not receive special invitations to meet with Council members, but they did have the same access to the Council as everyone else. They were free to come forward and express their point of view, in the spirit of the exercise where everyone had a seat at the same table, but they didn’t.

 

-Are you concerned that the constitution will be torn apart when it makes its way through Parliament?

 

No, I think the bill is fairly safe in this parliament. The prime minister has put it bluntly: “The people have put the parliament on probation.” So, I doubt that parliament dares derail or destroy a bill that the electorate has expressed such unequivocal support for in a national referendum. The prime minister and other leaders of the majority in parliament have suggested that the final version of the bill be put to a new referendum at the time of the next parliamentary election in April 2013. This would make it even harder for a new parliament not to pass the bill after the election. But, we can expect a bumpy ride.

 

-Some people have said that the Constitution wasn't crowdsourced in the truest sense of the word. Are you satisfied that the Council and the process in general stayed true to a crowdsourcing spirit?

 

Yes, I am satisfied. I am not aware of any constitution ever having been drafted in such an open, participatory, and democratic way.


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