Foreign Investments Uncovered database

Foreign Investments Uncovered database

Organisation: Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (Macedonia)

Publication Date: 04/05/2017


Size of team/newsroom:small


For over a decade now, a day has not gone by without hearing promises about the opening of hundreds of new jobs and investing of millions and millions of euros in certain ventures. We have watched ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the signings memorandums of cooperation, government representatives proudly having their photographs taken in front of companies with foreign capital; we heard announcements, big talk about large sums of money and announcements on saving municipalities from poverty and unemployment. However, after the ribbons have been cut and the photographs of the ones announcing the news have been taken, we rarely read about what has happened with the investment: Has the investment been made? How many people have been employed? Did the investment fall through? What were the reasons for it? Precisely these questions became the starting point and the reason that sparked the curiosity of the BIRN team to investigate more on this topic and to develop and publish the database “Foreign Investments Uncovered”. The database “Foreign Investments Uncovered” indicates that the amount of the investments is seven times lower, and the number of employed workers through these investments is three time less than announced by government spokes people. The investigation consists of 138 investments that have been announced or promoted between 2007 and 2016 by Government officials, and documented by our team. It shows that 43, roughly one third, of the announced investments have not been realized, or their realization has failed. It also shows that 26 foreign companies have been subsidized by the government to invest or work in the country, but the amount that has been given to the companies as subsidies remains unknown. According to the database, only four companies have invested the amount that has been announced, or slightly more. The others have invested significantly less than announced by the government, or have not invested at all. “Foreign investments uncovered” is a complex resource that provides an opportunity for many future investigations from journalists of civil society organizations. For first time after almost a decade of permanent announcements of foreign investments to Macedonia, our team succeeded to map all announced investments and provide thorough information for each one of them to the public. This has been done in a period in which the Governmental institutions have dedicated to remain silent and avoid responding to our questions for the foreign investments in the country and the state aid given to them. BIRN categorised investments based on three criteria – „realised“ (if the factory is open, regardless of how much of the promised was actually fulfilled), „in progress“ (if the investment is still in its early stage, announced recently or the factory/plant has not been opened yet) and „unrealised“ (if the investment was promised but never realised).

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

With the “Foreign Investments Uncovered” database, BIRN Macedonia confirmed the position of a pioneer of data journalism in Macedonia and by combining various investigative and digital techniques for the first time provided accurate and transparent information for the state with the foreign investments in the country. It combined data from various sources, like media, governmental website, data from Central Registry, and gave a tool to the journalists and citizens with which they can hold in the future the relevant institutions accountable and demand more information on this topic. The database after it was launched provoked mass reactions on the social media, it was a cause for numerous media stories for a longer period, and it sparked wider debate on this topic. Over fifty republications and mentions of the database and investigations were evident in a period shorter then a month, including 48 TV and web news produced by more than 40 media outlets on the findings of the investigation. Political parties from the opposition were demanding the former ruling party to provide accountable information for the foreign investments in the country after the launch of our investigations, while many other journalists were calculating the sustainability of the subsidies that the government is providing to the foreign investors, doubtful about the benefits from the policy for attracting foreign investors. It is a unique source for this kind of information for the journalists, citizens, and wider audience, having in mind the lack of transparency in providing data from the public institutions for this topic. In addition, BIRN discovered that many investments were announced more than once, but in different years, as brand new investments. For instance, the Austrian Texport Production was announced in 2011 by the Prime Minister at the time, Nikola Gruevski, and then, three years later.

Technologies used for this project:

The design and data visualizations are based on Bootsrap, Highcharts, Google charts and JQueri UI, while the backend is developed with ASP.NET (C#), MS SQL EXPRESS as database. The data is presented in two ways, as a visualization of set of group results, depending of the search query, and in a separate page per each investment. The data gathered and presented in this database can be downloaded for further use as CSV or PDF files. The database will be updated in the future when new information will be available. Dossier page containing all investigative stories in Macedonian is developed as well on, main local publication of BIRN Macedonia, and it is linked to the database. The announced investments that BIRN obtained access to and documented in the database, can be viewed through four basic filters located in the search menu on the front page of the database or by direct selection from a drop-down menu with all foreign investment documented in the database. The four filters are: Industry (includes the industries to which the investments belong), Country of origin (includes the countries where investments originate from), Location (municipality or industrial zone where the realisation of foreign investments was announced or realised), Status (investments are grouped into three categories based on their status i.e. the degree of the realisation of the investment: realised, unrealised, or in progress), and in addition users can get overview for each year and depending of the status of the investors whether they have received state aid or not. The key findings are presented at the landing page of the database.
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