It could be said she’s a cold-hearted woman with lots of experience in prisons. Or instead reveal she’s long kept a lookout for Svalbard’s well-being and is inviting lots of Facebook friends to visit her at new job in “nature that is breathtaking” with more emoticons than 97 percent* of her government peers.
Kjerstin Askhol, 53, general director of Norway’s Polar Affairs Department since 2003, has been appointed Svalbard’s next governor for a three-year term beginning Sept. 15.
“I am very happy and it is with humility that I go the job,” she said in a prepared statement. ” What makes it even more exciting is the versatile assignments. It is an operative work with many different responsibilities for the state. You are both the police chief and regional governor, and in addition there are many other assignments. The variety and interdisciplinarity under the same roof is exciting, and moreover I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to stay in Svalbard.”
Askholt, the first female governor since Ann-Kristin Olsen’s reign from 1995 to 1998, will replace Odd Olsen Ingerø, who has served since 2009 and was also governor from 2001 to 2005. The fixed term can optionally be extended for an additional three years.
The Polar Affairs Department is a branch the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, which has legal oversight of Svalbard. Askhold, as head of the department, is involved in a wide range of legal, economic, societal and other issues related to the archipelago. She was a member of a delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Erna Solberg to Svalbard last fall for an overview of the area’s emergency rescue readiness and discussions about Longyearbyen’s economic future in the wake of the Store Norske crisis. She has also been involved with the drafting of a “white paper” setting overall policy goal for Svalbard, settling disputes about issues such as workers’ rights in the archipelago and seeking ways to further the goal of making Longyearbyen a more diverse “family community.”
“I am very pleased that Kjerstin Askholt is undertaking this mission and am confident that she will perform her duties in a positive way,” said Anders Anundsen, head of the justice ministry, in a statement announcing the appointment. “The Svalbard community, which is a full-fledged part of Norway, is facing several challenges and it is therefore important that the governor is one who knows the community extremely well. It is important to continue the enhanced preparedness efforts in Svalbard.”
Askholt obtained her law degree from the University of Oslo in 1988. She worked in various management positions in Norway’s Correctional Services Department and as assistant director at the prison in Bredtveit prison before becoming head of the Polar Affairs Department.
But her law and prison background – to say nothing of a lifetime as a government bureaucrat – doesn’t seem to have cast much of a chill on her disposition. Her Facebook page was deluged with congratulatory messages with various types of smiley faces after the appointment was announced, with her replies focusing on the various things she’s looking forward to when she gets to Svalbard – frequently punctuated with emoticons in triplicate.
* Reporter’s estimate has not been statistically verified.