Stanley Wirak interviewed by Rakshan Abbasi in February 2017.
Sandnes Kommune, once a small sea port city, is now flourishing day and night, and attracting many new residents and businesses every year. Today, as the population is growing, the demand for resources is also increasing, so it is important that we all know about the opportunities the city has in store for us and how we can make the best out of them.
In this regard, Stanley Wirak, the mayor of Sandnes, talked to us about the prospects and challenges for the upcoming years and what the city has to offer.
- The unemployment rate doubled last year in Sandnes. What measures are being taken to create more opportunities? Do you think the coming years will be better for the economy?
Yes, we had to cut costs unfortunately. We have less taxes coming in, so we cannot spend more money than we have; but fortunately, it hasn’t been as bad as we thought. We did not have good results last year but we hope the unemployment rate goes down, more taxes come in and the economy kicks up again. I hope that we have seen the bottom.
As far as the jobs are concerned people are finding new opportunities and new solutions. The oil business is down but it’s not going further down. People are focusing on other fields too now and new jobs are coming in. Projects like fornybar energi (renewable energy), biotechnology and the tourism industry will create more opportunities for people.
- Though we observe a weak economy, there is still a lot of residential construction taking place in Sandnes. Your comments on that?
Well we had 700 new inhabitants last year mostly because the population is increasing, and the real estate is not so expensive in Sandnes as in Stavanger. More than one third of the people coming to Rogaland are coming to Sandnes. Only last year there was 36% increase in the population, so I’m quite optimistic there as well. Young people need a place to live, hence the construction is picking up again.
- Do you think there are enough utilities like barnehage (childcare), healthcare, and public transportation to cater to the rising population?
Yes, there are. In barnehage and schools you get admission the very next day. We have space but not in everyone’s neighborhood, so you may have to move a little. This may be short term because right now the registration is once a year and we are trying to do it twice a year.
- Are there any plans in the future to have a separate hospital for Sandnes?
No, because we have one hospital in the region. We need to have a certain size to attract good doctors and experts. If we divide the facilities into smaller hospitals we will not have the same expertise. 50 years ago, we had separate hospitals in Sandnes, Egersund, Stavanger and Rogaland Kommune but not anymore. To cater to the needs of a bigger population, we need to have a bigger hospital rather than many hospitals in different municipalities and splitting the expertise. Besides it takes just 15 minutes to reach Stavanger hospital from Sandnes.
- The world is becoming an intolerant place and we are seeing a lot of right-wing groups and fascists winning influential positions. Do you think this intolerance is getting a greater voice in Norway as well?
I don’t think we have the same problem in Norway because our democracy is strong. We don’t have the right-wing parties like in the Netherlands or France, and I don’t think people here in Norway support intolerance. During World War 2 what happened to Europe, we don’t want that back. We had it in Spain and Germany and that was very bad for Europe.
- So the refugees are welcome here?
Yes, but we have to keep a balance. We will welcome those who need it for political reasons or those affected by war but we cannot take a lot of economic refugees because we don’t have enough resources. They need work and we cannot offer that.
We have welcomed people from Syria, but we have people coming in from a lot of other countries as well and they come here for economic reasons. We are a small country and we do not have enough capacity like Germany. They have a lot of resources but even Germany will have to put a cap.
- What kind of business opportunities do we have in Sandnes?
We have fornybar (renewable) energy and we are also big on fish farming. We will merge with Forsand Kommune and there we will have a lot of new opportunities. Trading is also picking up and we are investing a lot in Langgata to attract more business.
- What about the cruise ships? Any chances they will come to Sandnes?
Well, it will take some time because we will have to change mindsets. We are working to get some visitors in Lysefjord and maybe someday in Sandnes as well.
- 100 Ugå is a good initiative to spark life into Sandnes Sentrum, what more is being done to rejuvenate the city?
There are some plans this summer. We have Blinkfestivalen and Nordsjørittet. Now this year we will have Barnas By and the opening event of Sandnes Langgata. Ungdommens Kulturmønstring (UKM) will be organized here for the first time, and youth from all over Norway will come to Sandnes to compete. We have the Norwegian Championship for athletes in August too, so a lot of plans this year and I’m really looking forward to that.