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It has long been good English in Greenland that Thule Air Base, an American air-force installation, should contribute something to its host country.
A 2009 study found that contribution amounted to 144 million kroner ($23 million) annually, primarily in the form of income tax paid by Greenlandic employees on the base.
To the frequent irritation of Greenlandic lawmakers, the contribution does not include rent paid by the occupants. A 1951 agreement between Denmark and the United States grants its military the use of the base for free.
Greenland’s Self-Rule government has now indicated that it, together with the Danish government, will seek to raise the issue of rent with the Americans after a Greenlandic firm lost its contract to provide maintenance and other facilities services on the base.
When the current contract expires in October, it will mark the first time since 1971 that Greenland Contractors does not operate on the base. Instead, the job will be held by a Danish-registered subsidiary of Exelis, an American firm.
Exelis is itself a subsidiary of Vectrus, which in turn is a subsidiary of ITT, both also American firms. The Danish firm was established in April, and this October, the Pentagon announced that it had been awarded the seven-year, $411 million tender from among a group of four firms.
By being registered as an independent Danish firm, the Exelis subsidiary lives up to the letter of an arrangement that reserves the service contracts for companies based in Denmark or Greenland. However, the firm’s American pedigree irks Greenlandic lawmakers of all political stripe, who feel it violates the spirit of the agreement.
The situation has been brought up in the Danish parliament and with the foreign minister. This week, Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s newly elected premier, who is currently holding meetings in Copenhagen, was able to make the case to the prime minister.
“The requirement is clear: only Danish and Greenlandic firms can submit tenders. The government of Greenland doesn’t think the US has upheld its part of the deal,” Kielsen told a press conference on Wednesday.
His frustration is no doubt compounded by the fact that his country is in the midst of an economic down-turn. Exelis’s successful tender is a double whammy that will only exaggerate this: not only does Greenland Contractors pay corporate taxes to Nuuk, the firm is also partly owned by the Self-Rule Authority, which pockets part of the profit directly. Official calculations indicate that losing the contract decreases the base’s financial contribution to the country by 100 million kroner annually.