Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swihoniz ("One's Own"), Part 3

In Part 1, we briefly considered how terrorism had made it to Sweden. Of course, this story has been in the news and especially in the blogosphere (see Gates of Vienna, for example Video from the Stockholm Terror Attack, Christmas Jihad in Stockholm, Canadian TV News Report on Stockholm and Video: Bombs Exploding in Stockholm; frankly, even then, the coverage is kind of sparce). In Part 2, we looked at how the facade of a multicultural Sweden was beginning to openly crack due to immigration. Of course, anything that makes it into the mainstream media is just the tip of the iceberg, just the tail of the elephant that is in the room that no one wishes to discuss.

We now look at other surprises that Swedish culture has for us.

In Asia Times Online we find Sweden has its own sickness, by Ritt Goldstein, dated December 22, 2010:

DALARNA, Sweden - As shock waves continue to emanate from Stockholm's recent terror bombing, such an event appearing all but unthinkable given the Sweden most people perceive, ongoing revelations highlight that Sweden has had some disturbing changes. In many ways, today's Sweden faces the same problems as other countries, including corruption and the sometimes nightmarish impact of it.

Emphasizing Swedish corruption's gravity, the vast bulk of cases that have come to light are occurring in municipal housing companies and the construction industry, with the substantive "human costs" of these scandals only beginning to be appreciated. So-called "sick houses", the significant health issues they've meant, are a recognized problem in Sweden, with the ongoing scandals now suggesting why.

"This is something that really needs to be looked upon and looked into," said Justice Chancellor Anna Skarhed of the scandals' health impact, sternly observing for Asia Times Online that "there is even more of this [the effects of corruption] than we've already seen, which is quite enough, and too much as it is."

China's infamous melamine scandal is said to have affected 300,000 people, or about .024% of its populace. But over 10% of Sweden's people are suffering varying degrees of ill health effects from badly constructed or maintained housing, with a not insignificant number suffering quite severely.

In 2008, Scandinavia's largest paper, Aftonbladet, noted, "In a new study from [Sweden's] Umea University, it was found that 45% of those affected by sick buildings - and who received medical treatment at a hospital clinic - are unable to work. Of these, 20% receive a disability pension, and 25% are on sick leave."

This picture that is painted is obviously one of corruption. The next two paragraphs of the article give us a better picture:

For much of its recent history, Sweden has represented what many consider the embodiment of governmental integrity and efficiency, with typical Swedes following rules so closely that virtually none even "jaywalk". Decades of cradle-to-grave government benefits have created a deep-felt faith in the authorities, present events providing a decidedly rude awakening for most, though not all.

Leif Kavestad - author of the Swedish book Sick Houses, building engineer, and a former environmental inspector who was personally decorated by the prior prime minister - has charged that "when residents complain about health hazards and health problems in municipal housing, it's not uncommon for the municipality to hire 'consultants' that will declare the property safe." Kavestad pointedly told ATol that "in legal disputes, the environmental agency always accepts the word of the municipality's 'bought' consultants. Tenants which complain over sick buildings with health complaints are sometimes threatened - the parties together can act like a mafia against the tenants."

Sweden's government, together with the consultants that the government asks to look into problems, function "like a mafia against the tenants."

Skipping down:

Adding another dimension to the corruption problem, in September three rights groups filed a criminal complaint against Saab, alleging bribery was involved in the sale of Swedish fighter aircraft to South Africa. Prosecutor Stetler describes the status of this case as under "active consideration", a determination on the opening of a preliminary investigation yet to be forthcoming. But Stetler's unit has been busy.

Corruption revelations began detonating in April, with an investigative TV program resembling a Swedish version of 60 Minutes entitled Uppdrag Granskning (UG), exploding municipal corruption onto the national agenda. Their report centered on "bribery and corruption in Gothenburg", Sweden's second-largest city, and today a place where all four of the city's municipal housing companies have come under the National Anti-Corruption Unit's investigation.

Following the UG reports, charges ranging from aggravated corruption and fraud to breach of trust and embezzlement have become among those being investigated. Individuals focused on include local officials, municipal company executives, and construction industry figures.

Drawing considerable outrage, funds earmarked for construction and renovation of municipal housing appear to have gone to luxurious additions to officials' private homes. "If you are 'well-connected' locally ... there might be people then who are prepared to 'bend the rules' to give you favors, and maybe they get favors back. And we know that this happens in municipalities," said corruption expert and political scientist Staffan Andersson of Sweden's Linne University, cutting to the issue of so-called local "strongmen", an issue well publicized as a key corruption problem.

Sweden is starting to sound like a "banana republic".

Skipping down:

Over the past 20 years, Sweden privatized increasingly large segments of its public sector, particularly in municipalities. It set up hybrid companies that were owned by municipalities but operated as semi-independent firms, firms with far looser controls than when their work was done as an official municipal organ. "We have been so focused on productivity, efficiency, and cost savings ... but there's also another side," Andersson explained. He added that when it came to effective controls within these new entities, events have "not been running as quick as we have done with productivity", questioning whether today's controls fit "the kind of administration we had 20years ago".

This is akin to what is going on the in the United States today. This huge, bloated federal government begins to outsource some of its functions to the private sector; of course, the first things to be outsourced are the most legitimate functions of a national government, namely defense and security; the military began to be down-sized under Bush-41, Clinton was only happy to accelerate the program, and well-placed government officials steered the resulting contracts to their associates in the business world, from which those officials came, and to which they went, in our revolving-door banana republic.

Illustrating his point, Andersson emphasized for ATol that "there are a lot of instances where ... municipalities are actually carrying out authority in a way which is regarded as illegal by courts, administrative courts, but they actually do it anyway". Paralleling this, an October SVT news report had earlier revealed how some municipal auditors whitewashed wrongdoing, then received legal immunity from the municipality for their actions, leaving no one legally culpable.

They whitewashed their crimes, then received legal immunity - this is starting to sound very familiar.

Please read the entire article as it is very interesting, and I highly recommend Asia Times Online as a news source.

I think part of the reason that Sweden is particularly vulnerable to corruption is that so many people are getting some kind of government hand-out, that they feel secure and don't want to bite the hand that feeds them. To be sure, many of the Swedes who are getting this "hand-out" worked hard and paid taxes, and so they deserve something back, but my point is more subtle than that; once your tax money is paid, now you have to play the game by the rules to get back what was yours to begin with. In contrast, a freer people, freer from such extensive government intrusion into their lives, might not view their government as a nanny that takes care of them, but rather as a natural collection point for power which inevitably gets abused.

An interesting report, entitled Perceptions of Corruption in Sweden, dated April of 2010, by Bauhr, Nasiritousi, Oscarsson, and Persson, examined the perception that Swedes have of corruption in their own country. An interesting excerpt can be found beginning on page 10:

When given the opportunity to express themselves more freely, most respondents witness that they personally have had very little experience of corruption in Sweden. Many quote international studies, which show that Sweden has relatively low levels of corruption.

I don’t think that is very widespread in Sweden.

It is rather low compared to other countries.

I think that in an international comparison, Sweden has been pretty spared.

After all, I think Sweden is among the countries with the lowest levels of corruption. I don’t
feel that it is a big, or even medium‐sized, problem in Sweden.

Sweden is one of the least corrupt countries in the world as far as I know.

I think Sweden is one of the least corrupt countries in the world.

I don’t think Sweden is very corrupt in comparison to many other countries. I have, for instance, experiences from Norway and I think already our neighboring country is more corrupt.

They basically quote international studies - and, in my opinion, are perhaps fiddling while Sweden is burning (literally, in some cases).

The next page is eye-opening:

Several responses indicate that Swedes are proud of living in a country with a very low level of corruption. There is a view that the bureaucracy and the tax system work because bribery is such a rare phenomenon.

I am happy to be living in a country where corruption among politicians and civil servants is so low. That means that the tax system works rather well and that many of us want to pay taxes.

Because they believe their country is not corrupt, they are happy to give their money to their government, which, they believe, is genuinely working in their best interests.

Thank God that the founders of our own country were more worldly than that, and no wonder there has been a deliberate attempt to dumb-down America via capture/destruction of our education system by those who seek to destroy freedom.

Others answer that if there is corruption, it is not visible as money is rarely traded:

I don’t think we have any ’expensive’ types of corruption, rather it is more about dinners etc that are perceived as something different but provide an indirect position of influence in the decision‐making.

According to all surveys being conducted, we have been pretty spared from corruption in Sweden, but of course it exists. Perhaps not in the form of pure bribes, but more in the way of certain people exploiting their position, power and contacts.

Thus, a frequent opinion is that Sweden is relatively spared from corruption in its traditional sense, but, trading favors is a form of hidden corruption that is comparatively difficult to capture in the statistics on corruption.

I think that the corruption that exists in Sweden is pretty harmless and in many cases people do not consider themselves to be corrupt since they do not accept lasting things such as money or things with a high value.

For me, corruption is pretty much about MONEY. Sometimes friendships, contacts and perhaps lobby activities could also be included. That would of course change the statistics...

It is fairly widespread, but not as "powerful" as in for example Italy. However, there is a lot of "palm greasing", which has an effect on decisions and prioritizations.

I think the corruption that exists in Sweden is more about providing others with advantages rather than pure money. This fact can make it easier to hide the bribe.

Not very visible – but that does not mean it does not exist.

Finally, while there is some variation in how widespread corruption is perceived to be depending on the type, the general finding is that corruption is not the expected behavior in Sweden such as in many developing countries. Especially forms of corruption which involve monetary transactions are perceived to be rare. However, forms of corruption which do not necessarily involve monetary transactions are typically perceived to be more widespread. In the next section, we explore the extent to which corruption is morally approved in a low corruption country like Sweden.

Actually, corruption that involves monetary transactions is for amateurs.

Stay tuned for Part 4.

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