Aid agency Sida hit by spending scandals

Swedish development aid organization Sida has been shaken this week by allegations of corruption and questionable spending habits.

On Wednesday, the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper revealed that police and prosecutors were investigating suspicions of breach of trust against a 60-year-old employee of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Southern Sweden who managed dozens of aid projects in a long-running cooperative arrangement between his organization and Sida.

The investigation was launched earlier this year following concerns from the chamber of commerce that millions of kronor had gone missing from a joint project designed to foster the business climate in the Palestinian territories and overseen by the 60-year-old.

The chamber conducted its own investigation, which only strengthened suspicions that the man has misused Sida’s funding for the project.

“I contacted our cooperating partner Sida, which in turn filed a report to the national anti-corruption unit,” said Stephan Müchler, head of the chamber of commerce, to DN.

Sida’s own investigation into the actions of the 60-year-old, which has been classified, revealed that the man’s criminal actions had been going on for nine years and ran into the millions of kronor.

It remains unclear as to where the money may have gone.

According to DN, prosecutors suspect that the man’s partner in the Palestinian territories may have been involved and aren’t ruling out that the man simply took the money to line his own pockets.

The 60-year-old has been released from custody as he is no longer considered a threat to the investigation.

If charged and convicted, he faces up to six years in prison.

“My client emphatically denies the charges against him. Every year these projects have been reviewed and approved by Sida. Not one time have they found with them,” said the 60-year-old’s lawyer Olof Ahrnbom.

The corruption revelations come only a day after a review by DN of Sida’s own internal spending practices which showed that the agency spent more money on staff benefits and social functions last year than it spent on humanitarian aid to countries like Rwanda, East Timor, Bolivia, and Namibia.

Sida spent an average of 8,100 kronor ($1,130) per employee on things like coffee, buns, and gifts.

According to DN’s analysis of spending in all of Sweden’s state agencies, Sida’s spending per employee is more than four times greater than the overall average of 1,700 kronor per employee.

“I’ve got nothing against employees getting fruit, coffee, and Christmas gifts. But to spend 8,000 kronor per year on staff perks is too much,” said Social Democratic Riksdag member and vice chair of foreign affairs committee Urban Ahlin.

“Considering that we give tax money to Sida to promote poverty reduction around the world, I’d suggest they review their procedures and think a little bit about how much internal benefits they should have in the future.”