Gotland official called in over favouritism claims

Gotland official called in over favouritism claims; Hemlins foto/Gotlands Länsstyrelsen
The county governor of the Baltic island of Gotland, Marianne Samuelsson, has been summoned by the government to explain comments claiming that prominent business people should be given favourable treatment.

“I am now going to meet with Marianne Samuelsson and underline that which is a matter of course, a constitutional principle, that all are equal before the law. I would like to discuss with her view on this,” the local government minister, Mats Odell told news agency TT on Thursday.

Odell has called Samuelsson in for talks after a tape emerged of her arguing that businessman Max Hansson should receive preferential treatment for plans to extend his property in a protected area.

“Max Hansson is one of our largest business people, or the most significant business-owner we have on the island,” the former Green Party Member of Parliament is heard to have said at the March meeting of the county administrative board.

A recording of the meeting was made public by Sveriges Radio.

Samuelsson claimed in the meeting that other counties would do the same in granting dispensation to residents of standing.

“We can not lose business opportunities. We can not only have people walking around on the beach, you can’t survive on that.”

Samuelsson later approved Hansson’s plans against the objections of several experts.

In the wake of the scandal Samuelsson has found herself isolated among her colleagues.

Björn Eriksson, county governor of Östergötland, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper (SvD) on Thursday:

“On the available facts I can not accept that a person’s importance is decisive in making a decision. One can not in public service make a difference between individuals, rich or poor.”

Lars Bäckström, county governor of Västra Götaland, rejected Samuelsson’s claim that he would surely not object to plans submitted by the head of locally-based firm Volvo to build by the beach.

“One can get dispensation for general reasons but not as a consequence of one’s standing in society,” he told SvD.

In accordance with a beach access law passed in 1996, a 300 metre coastal strip around Gotland is protected and therefore requires special dispensation from the board for any changes.

Hansson submitted an application to extend a house located within this 300 metre boundary. The plans were therefore subject to inspection and required special dispensation.

When an official for the board travelled to the property, in Östergarnslandet on the island’s east coast, a series of other unapproved changes to the property were discovered.

Hansson has gradually extended his property from a modest 2,000 square metres to almost two hectares since 1975 and much of the work has been undertaken without planning permission, according to SvD.

These extensions include a tennis court and a golf green.

Max Hansson has rejected the assertion that he has received favourable treatment from the board, on the contrary, they have been a perennial thorn in his side, he claims.

“It seems to be a right old mess at the county administrative board. I have always followed all laws and ordinances.”

“What do those bureaucrats know about it? They play balalaika, not tennis,” Hansson told SvD referring to a Russian string instrument in an apparent reference to supposed left-wing sympathies.

This is not the first time that Marianne Samuelsson has courted controversy.

She was criticized last year after it emerged that Nordstream, the firm behind the construction of a controversial gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic sea, funded the 200,000 kronor ($27,000) extension of the Historical Museum of Gotland.

Samuelsson is currently on holiday and Mats Odell confirmed to the news agency TT on Thursday that he therefore expects the meeting to take place at an unspecified date in the near future.

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