The billion krona bill
Organisation: Aftonbladet (Sweden)
Publication Date: 04/10/2017
Size of team/newsroom:large
DescriptionThe billion-krona bill is a unique computer-based, deep-digging assignment that revealed widespread abuse of taxpayers’ money and large-scale abuse of systems. Government managers have given away large sums of taxpayers ‘money in tips at bars and restaurants, treated bsuiness contacts to spirits and champagne, bought massage with taxpayers’ money, taken conference trips where the emphasis has been on recreation, held private parties, received exclusive gifts and paid for expensive entertainment. Several tax-funded institutions have spent millions on events of which even their employees have question the value. The material consisted of hundreds of thousands of documents from Sweden’s public sector. We contacted all public bodies in Sweden, requesting the total amounts spent on representation, courses and conferences. We also asked for data on expensive entertainment events and conferences in the form of invoices, tickets, programs and lists of participants. This added up to hundreds of thousands of documents that we have systematically reviewed in our in-depth study and compiled digitally. We had repeated contacts with employees at more than 600 tax-supported institutions. We conducted numerous interviews, both open and under protection of sources, to gather material for our articles. Based on the extensive basic material, we have, over months of investigations, managed to uncover a number of anomalies and systematic faults. We have presented the material in articles and television interviews with elected officials unable to give answers. We have also used advanced digital presentations to make the comprehensive basic material accessible and understandable down to the level of the individual inhabitant of a municipality. The work has shown how many authorities and municipalities have violated their own rules with impunity. Managers have accepted rule violations after the fact, permitting excessively generous representation. Certain authorities and municipalities lack guidelines and control systems. Certain authorities and municipalities did not consider themselves able to accommodate our request to produce documents. Instead, we were shown transaction lists, meaning we had to look through tens of thousands of items in various Excel spreadsheets and then requisition the invoices we wanted to look at. This did not affect the totals, but entailed a lot of extra work. Certain authorities and municipalities was also very slow in their handling of our request. Another problem was that there were cases where the authorities or municipalities did not follow the principle of public access and, despite repeated requests, failed to disclose what we requested.
What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?In its scope, the billion-krona bill is one of the largest computer-based investigative assignments in Aftonbladet’s history. In total, the work took nearly 1,500 hours of work and a lot of that time was devoted to reviewing the public documents that we had requisitioned. We have shown, down to the last krona, what the country’s municipalities, county councils and authorities spent on entertainment, courses and conferences in 2015. We have examined over 600 taxpayer-funded institutions, and the survey shows that they spent a combined SEK 5.7 billion. Since we collected data from all of the municipalities and authorities in Sweden, it was also easy to see which of them spent more money than others. The work has had a huge impact. We have received strong reactions from our readers, the authorities examined, the local and national press, and politicians. Our revelations have been featured in a number of other media, been mentioned on television and radio and debated in the newspapers. Media around the country made their own reviews of the data we had prepared. Since we put a lot of time into showing the situation in 289 of the country’s 290 municipalities, several local media outlets were able to delve deeper into how tax funds are used in their own municipalities. In connection with the review, a number of municipalities explained publicly their use of taxpayers’ money. In one case, a municipality made a defense speech before we had published our revelations. During our examination, authority managers repaid misappropriated taxpayer money – and, in some cases, it was announced that the guidelines would be reviewed. The revelations have been recognized among local politicians, as well as in the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) and by the government. Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson (S) was highly critical following our revelations. She noted that in order to maintain ‘trust in society’ public funds must be used “with the insight that ‘this is not my money."
Technologies used for this project:The material consisted of hundreds of thousands of documents from Sweden’s public sector that we have systematically reviewed in our in-depth study and compiled digitally. We have also advanced digital presentations to make the comprehensive basic material accessible and understandable down to the level of the individual inhabitant of a municipality. The main framework used to control the site is Vue.js (https://vuejs.org/) framework. Imagemagick is used to generate the images for Social media sharing.
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