Back in January I wrote a wee post about Iceland’s future economic prospects, in particular the fact that a company called Verne Holding was looking to construct a data centre on the Reykjanes peninsula.
The idea of setting up a data centre in Iceland is excellent. Data centres require a lot of cooling, so the climate here is ideal. They also require a lot of energy, which we have here, too. And best of all — they are not aluminium plants, which some people consider a quick-fix solution to all of Iceland’s economic problems, and which we have plenty of already, thanksverymuch. So the prospect of Verne Holding coming in to set up a data centre was like a total windfall.
The only cloud in an otherwise brilliant sky: Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson was a 40% owner of Verne Holding. Which raised a rather ethical dilemma — should we allow the oligarchs, who for all intents and purposes got us into this mess, to help us out of it again? Should we take Björgólfur Thor’s cash, which for some of us at least represents tainted money? Or should Björgólfur Thor and his ilk simply be banned for participating in Icelandic commercial ventures until their names are cleared and they have paid back their dues to Icelandic society, like many of them now claim they intend to do?
Yes, Björgólfur Thor has come out with a public apology, like several other key players in the meltdown — apologies that have been met with mixed reactions. He has promised to pay back every króna that he took out of Iceland.
And the latest: It is now reported that he has reached an agreement with Icelandic authorities to turn over all of his profits from the Verne Holding venture to the state.
I must say that I am among the group of sceptics of all these mea culpas that are now being heard. Mostly because they are only being made now that the Black Report is out, when these key players have been exposed for what they are and what they did. Their apologies ring a bit hollow, particularly when contrasted with the arrogant tone that generally prevailed in the 18 months that passed from the collapse to the publication of the report. A recent “apology” by Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson in Fréttablaðið, which was clearly written by one of his minions, was particularly distasteful, particularly when contrasted with his earlier writings and the now-exposed nature of his misdemeanors before the collapse.
That said, I’m all for giving people a chance to make amends. Nota bene: Amends are not the same as a glib little “sorry”. Amends are, as the term suggests, all about “mending” — about amending one’s behavior in the wake of an event, behaving differently, and trying to make up for a wrongdoing. Viewed in that context, Björgólfur Thor’s gesture is a step in the right direction, for as the Icelanders say: Batnandi manni er best a lifa — A man in recovery stands a good chance at life. We will just have to see how many those steps are, and where they will take him in the end.