NOTE: This is a longer version of an Oped that appeared in the Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv on 21 March 2014.
The revelation of the Oil Fund’s controversial investment in Formula 1 has led to Ola Mestad, Lars Hakon Sooras and Sofie Mathiasen and other Norwegian commentators to warn against allowing the Fund to invest in unlisted assets. This would be a grave mistake that would cost Norwegians dearly.
Instead, the government should bolster Fund capacity and set up a powerful independent watchdog in the form of a “Stortingets Råd for Oljefondet”.
Critics say that unlisted assets will make it harder to detect unethical investments or exercise oversight. They also warn about the lack of relevant expertise at the Fund and in the Norges Bank board that oversees it. As a reaction to the Formula 1 fiasco these concerns are understandable, but misconceived.
While unlisted investments, private equity and infrastructure disclose less information publicly, they will give NBIM access to hordes of private information. It will also be in a much stronger position to demand private information and to successfully challenge questionable practices. For effective oversight, the SRO should not only enjoy privileged access to all the data NBIM holds, but also have the right to demand more information on any of its investments.
Does anyone seriously think that Formula 1, with the constant whiff of scandal and a controversial promoter repeatedly accused of corruption, would have been an appropriate investment if only it were listed? It did not pass the smell test, period.