NORWAY - Norway's Parliament, the Stortingets, is setting up an independent committee to review the parliamentary pension system, after the office of the Auditor General (Riksrevisjonen) discovered at least six cases of "improper" pension payments.

The Riksrevisjonen said a preliminary report had notified it of the overpayments to the six former members of the Stortinget in April, although a final report was not submitted until 25 June, after it had received a response from the pension's board.

The report noted not only had six people received "improper payments" but it also revealed the payment of pensions to former Storting representatives lacked inspection procedures to follow-up a pension member's other income.

Jørgen Kosmo, auditor general, said although the Riksrevisjonen had uncovered the overpayments, common auditing practice meant "dialogue with the affected individuals is the responsibility of the pension's board".

But he added: "The rules are clear. If you have earned a single penny more than what you've been entitled to in retirement for the current year, you must repay the entire pension payments."

The overpayments were discovered following information received from the pension's board, the Norwegian pension fund, the central registry for social security, public tax lists and the employer/employee registry.

However,the Riksrevisjonens noted in its report the pension's board payments are mainly based on trusting the information provided by senior citizens, and so it "has not established inspection procedures for the follow-up of pensioners' other income".

Although the Riksrevisjonens has uncovered six cases of incorrect payments, it warned the lack of control over pension payments might mean there is a "risk of incorrect payments in excess of those covered in the report".

Under the terms of the parliamentary pension, the pensioner must declare any additional employer/employee related income up the level of the full Stortings pension, even if it is not permanent, although the Riksrevisjonen claimed the boundary between what is classed as fixed or sporadic income is "still somewhat unclear".

As a result of the Audit General's report, the Parliament's presidency has now confirmed it will establish an independent committee to review the pension scheme, with the full mandate and composition of the panel to be decided on 4 September.

However, a statement from the Stortinget revealed the commission would review all the matters outlined in the Riksrevisjonen's report, and all pension payments made to members over the age of 75, including those highlighted by the auditor's report, "must be reviewed".

In addition, the committee will be asked to review the legal practices surrounding parliament's pension system, and examine the procedures currently used in the treatment of individual cases.

The committee will also be appointed to study the future of the parliamentary pension system, and in particular consider a potential arrangement where the pension fund would be managed externally and independent of Parliament.

Independent experts have a short time frame in which to conduct its investigations, as parliament has stated the committee should report its findings to the presidency "as soon as possible" or at the latest by the end of the year.

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