Suspicion over Persson’s growth prediction

Secret figures about the Swedish economic growth rate which should have been made available to the government and the public at the same time were known to officials in the Ministry of Finance several days in advance. Among them was a politically-appointed state secretary, TV8 news has reported.

Now opposition politicians believe the figures were leaked to prime minister Göran Persson and used by him in a speech last weekend.

The day before the official report from Statistics Sweden was released, Persson predicted remarkable economic growth for the second quarter. In a press conference afterwards he went so far as to say that growth would greater than the anticipated 4-4.5%, startling many analysts.

Persson was right: on Monday Statistics Sweden officially released its report showing a growth rate of 5.5% and the greatest quarterly leap since 2000.

But the report is supposed to be confidential so that it does not leak out in advance and affect the markets. In addition, according to TV8, Statistics Sweden has attested to the International Monetary Fund that “the government does not have access to the information before it is released to the public”.

Last Friday, however, Statistics Sweden presented the contents of its report at a meeting at the National Institute of Economic Research. Two people from the Ministry of Finance were at the meeting.

“We have such a discussion at a civil servant level some days before,” said Hans Svensson, acting head of Statistics Sweden’s department for national accounts.

He told TT that the meeting is a well-established routine and that certain tables of figures are sent in advance so other people in the finance department can be clued in.

Since the contents are confidential, it is of the utmost importance that the figures are not distributed outside of this group – and Hans Svensson said he was taken aback when he heard Göran Persson’s speech.

“It was remarkable – I was a little surprised,” he said.

In order to avoid such a situation again, discussions are now ongoing which could lead to the Ministry of Finance and the National Institute of Economic Research being blocked from having any advance information.

The politically-appointed state secretary in the finance ministry, Jens Henriksson, confirmed that he had an advance viewing of the GNP figures last Thursday or Friday. But he refused to reveal whether he had in turn informed his boss, finance minister Pär Nuder.

“I’m not going to say whether I’ve spoken to anyone in the finance department about this – it’s a moral issue,” he said.

However, Henriksson did say that he had not spoken about the growth figures with prime minister Göran Persson.

But opposition alliance politicians suspect that Göran Persson was privy to the information in advance.

“The formulation of Persson’s Björkvik speech is undeniably such that it seems obvious that he knew the figures,” said Mikael Odenburg, the economic spokesman of the Moderates.

His counterpart in the Centre Party, Roger Tiefensee, told The Local that the affair was a “political scandal”.

“The question you have to ask is whether Persson had the figures in his back pocket when he said at Björkvik that he wouldn’t be surprised if people’s expectations were exceeded. Despite that he said he didn’t know for sure. In which case, that was a lie,” said Tiefensee.

Göran Persson responded through his press secretary, Sebastian Navab:

“The representatives of the right should calm down. I made my own judgement, just like I often do. The right should get used to the fact that things are going well for Sweden.”

But Mats Odell of the Christian Democrats said that the issue showed how tight the Social Democrats’ grip on supposedly independent state organisations is, and was a symptom of the fact that the Social Democrats have been in power for 65 of the last 74 years.

“The state must separate itself from the Social Democrats and the Social Democratic party must be separated from power,” he said.