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Hefty PR advice bill after Saudi arms scandal

Published: 17 Jun 2012 12:20 GMT+02:00
Updated: 17 Jun 2012 12:20 GMT+02:00

When news of the Saudi arms factory broke in March, the Swedish Defence Research Agency hired crisis management consultants for over 300,000 kronor ($43,000).

Tax money well spent, according to the Defence Research Agency’s (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut, FOI) head of communications, Ann-Sofi Pejler Carlsson.

“It wouldn’t be cost effective to have a larger communications department. It’s actually fairly standard to bring in external expertise. In IT, for instance, all expertise is not internal,” she said to news agency TT.

The deal behind the controversial arms factory was revealed by Swedish national radio station SR on 6 March, showing that FOI had formed the decoy company SSTI to arrange the building of an arms factory.

As the scandal unfolded, defence minister Sten Tolgfors was forced to resign and the founder of SSTI, formerly employed by FOI, said that the money used to start the company consisted of public funds from FOI, and is currently being investigated for breach of trust.

When the news broke, FOI hired PR firm Gullers Grupp, and ran a bill of 316,250 kronor there for “media analyses” and “communication advice”, according to TT.

The agency’s communications head Pejler Carlsson is unwilling to discuss what exact advice they were given, but said it concerned both internal and external communication, when and how to present information.

News agency TT asked whether she’s concerned that the agency’s actions could be conceived as using tax money in an attempt to hide something from tax payers.

“I don’t know if there is such a risk, but I think it’s important for us to be able to get external help when extra need arises, as in this case.”

FOI’s lack of communication during the scandal came in for heavy criticism. Several media sources wanted to interview the agency’s head Jan-Olof Lind, but were met by constant refusals.

“We tried to work with our communication as best we could. The difficulty is that so much was confidential,” said Pejler Carlsson.

Several MPs are critical of FOI’s decision to pay for external crisis management.

“I think it’s completely horrible,” said Green Party MP Peter Rådberg to TT. Rådberg has previously criticised the way FOI has handled the Saudi arms deal.

“The former FOI boss, Lind, came to see us at the Riksdag’s defence committee, and he didn’t answer a single question. He just accounted for general matters. It was impossible to get anything out of the man,” Rådberg said.

Left Party MP Torbjörn Björlund was also critical of FOI’s actions, and was unimpressed by the argument that the confidential information involved bound FOI’s hands.

“That’s just an excuse. I think it’s cowardly to hide behind confidentiality. They can always find reasons to make something confidential; it’s built on their own values. To me it feels like a way to escape responsibility,” Björlund said, and continued:

“If you tell the truth and take care to stick to the rules, you shouldn’t need any external communications expertise.”

TT/Clara Guibourg (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:50 June 17, 2012 by byke
Democracy, the voice of the people ......

Shame it seems to have been lost in translation.
14:10 June 17, 2012 by jack sprat
Shades of the attempted cover up of Swedens wartime loan to the Nazis.

Some things never change.
14:54 June 17, 2012 by Abe L
The taxpayer should have simply been happy with the additional income for the Swedish state. This did not need to get blown up like it did and there really shouldn't have been a PR campaign. This is a good thing, both for the revenue and political relations.
15:42 June 17, 2012 by Gardian
Those who think that you are protecting Swedish public money or so call taxpayers money , This is the time you need to change your mind , Saudi Arabia is very rich country they produce 30% of global Oil , each day have billion dollar cash account , So what is wrong if Sweden government exchange their experience with Saudis and get some oil in return or cash maybe. What Swedish taxpayers will lose in that, the Government will get more money from the Saudis and the question for the government has to be like this , WHERE YOU ARE GOING TO SPENT THIS MONEY? AND HOW MUCH ITS? AND HOW THE PUBLIC CAN BENEFIT THE MONEY COMING FROM SAUDIS?. The American and Uk did that? the Norwegian also ? So what?. In fact the government will hide all the information related to this project because of this stupid people who is just talking about 300,000 kroner spent by public fund , and not about the billion dollars coming from the Saudis ! I was in Dubai last summer and its amazing how the Norwegian and british are getting big projects from UAE government and most of big bosses for these companies are british American , Norwegian. no single Swedish you know why ? because we are idiot and our parties are one century behind. and the society itself are very passive. Its time for us to change our minds and get involved where is an interesting regardless of human rights and democracy , this principles and values is here in Sweden. IF say no , they will contract with other developed countries in Europe.
16:55 June 17, 2012 by skogsbo
300,000 sek for a months PR work, sound seriously cheap to me. That's what 1 PR consultant would probably charge for 30 days work at that level, sounds like they got a discount, or did actually use them very much. I echo the above, if you want to get some serious revenue from abroad, then spending a little is not a probably. Most governments probably spend more than this per year on flowers for their offices and entrance foyers!
17:18 June 17, 2012 by glamelixir
I am a PR, tell me were shall I apply for that monthly salary!
09:27 June 18, 2012 by Borilla
Create a deal to make money for the Swedish government? A bizarre action for any government to actually try to earn income. Instead of conducting a PR campaign to support the project, try to hide it and when the project is discovered hire a high priced politically connected PR firm to try and cover your tracks. Great work Moderates. Capitalism at its best. Waste taxpayers' money on a failed project and then throw more taxpayer money on the fire to hide it. If it was not a good deal, if it was against public policy or if it was not supported by public opinion, you should never have done it. Hiring PR flacks to try to shift the ultimate blame to the public is shameful. Now you say that hiring someone to cover your tracks is cost efficient. Great planning.
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