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'Today’s cheap might be costly tomorrow'

The Local · 15 Aug 2012, 15:00

Published: 15 Aug 2012 15:00 GMT+02:00

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The first recorded use of the expression Cucumber Time hails from around the year 1700. It was ‘the time of year when tailors could not be expected to earn much money.’ Because ‘when cucumbers are in, the gentry are out of town’.

So what it means is the dull time of year when orders are few, work is slack and tailors have time to themselves.

These days the phrase is still in use to indicate the period of high summer, when the news dries out and the media has to look near and far to fill their pages with content.

It seems that this year the Swedish press has found a story in the expenses and representation costs of government officials and civil servants.

For days the headlines have been dominated by scandals of ministers, director generals and other public officials and their reckless spending of the hard earned kronor, so generously paid to them by the general public.

Christina Lugnet, the beleaguered former head of the Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) was quickly sacrificed in an attempt to appease the media but since that first victory on the battlefield of integrity, it seems the press is only baying for more.

Of course Ms Lugnet made a big mistake. This, however, was not to throw a party for her employees at Stockholm’s Grand Hotel, an obviously questionable choice of venue. Her mistake was trying to cover it up and persisting in her opinion that it was the cheapest option available. One can say many things about the Grand, but never that it is the cheapest option.

But what is really the “cheapest option”?

Sometimes the best price on the invoice is not the best option for the long term general interest and today’s cheap might be costly tomorrow!

A Swedish minister or civil servant missing an informal dinner the night before official negotiations because he/she has to take the cheapest flight out, can have serious consequences for the national interest. Being the only delegation that stays at the cheap airport hotel when all the others are in town can be equally harmful.

So what a relief it would be to hear a minister or director general simply defend the choices they have made. To hear a leader stand up for his employees and tell the media that civil servants are people too.

That they, just like private sector employees, have a right to an employer that treats them with dignity and applauds their accomplishments. That civil servants, like all others, work harder when they are well-motivated and the atmosphere in the organization is good and that this in turn saves on costs. That the money their staff has saved by making cuts and efficiency improvements in the last few years far outweighs the costs of an internal dinner or event to celebrate this success.

But no. Like dogs being whipped, the guilt-ridden politicians put their tails between their legs and make the rules, procedures and internal regulations for representational events even tighter. So that when the next salvo of media shots come they can blame it on their staff for breaking the rules.

There can be no doubt that true misuse of tax payers' money needs to be addressed, combated and followed by serious consequences. But in the large scale of world events, perhaps it is time to redefine the word “misuse”.

To recognize the public sector for what it is: a sector like any other where most people work hard with dedication, commitment and integrity. But without the bonuses, thirteenth month pay or stock options.

Story continues below…

And that in a country that is 4th out of 183 in the Corruption perceptions index of Transparency International, the media should be able to find bigger fish to fry.

Even during ‘Cucumber Time’.

Ruben Brunsveld

Ruben Brunsveld is the Director of the Stockholm Institute for Public Speaking (StIPS), which offers training in Intercultural Communication, Public Speaking & Negotiation Techniques

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The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:27 August 16, 2012 by nolikegohome
well said thank you for the nice article. Its time for a cumumber sandwitch.
12:31 August 16, 2012 by cogito
Corruption is so institutionalized in Sweden that it can no longer be measured or corrected.
13:19 August 17, 2012 by Borilla
Since when is it necessary that the employer, public or private, wine and dine its employees? Let's see where they eat if they have to pay for it themselves. Pass the hat and let each employee contribute. This does not mean that the public does not appreciate the duties performed in the public sector. But appreciation does not mean that the public must pay for the entertainment of those employees. That is what their salary is for. Misuse of public funds is not something to be measured on the basis of a little misuse versus massive misuse. Like the lady who will go to bed with you for a million kronor but not for a hundred, we know what you are we are just arguing about price. Moreover, one must wonder whether the author actually condones the misuse of public funds or if it was just a "slow news day."
13:21 August 20, 2012 by RobinHood

I would like to reword your erudite words.

Corruption is so institionalized in Sweden it is not recognized as corruption at all.

Mr Brunsveld every single crown spent from the public purse should be accountable. No one has suggested ministers should miss meetings to save money; your example is disingenuous. The press, wholeheartedly supported by the public, demand that their money be spent wisely and transparently. It is one thing for a civil servant to be treated with dignity, it is quite another for him/her to be dined at the Grand at the taxpayers' expense, for no more than doing his or her job well. Christina Lugnet palpably failed to recognize that, and the press, quite correctly, reported and commented on her failure.

Your suggestion that a story about a government department leader who treats her department to taxpayer funded dinners at the Grand is a mere "cucumber" story is nonsense and does you no credit. The number of posters who commented on the story here at the Local, and the passion with which they wrote, really should have tipped you off. It is you and Ms Lugnet who are out of touch with the public. One has learned her lesson; the other remains unconvinced, but would be wise to be careful in future how he spends other people's money.
09:30 August 27, 2012 by karex
#4 Well-said, kudos! I agree 100%.

Why should I pay every time I need to go to the Dr. after paying an absurd amount of taxes to be able to have free health care while Säpo spends millions on a Bond-type party? If there is money to spare for parties then it should be used to fix roads, build more schools, fund research into finding cures for lethal diseases and offer free health care, not throw parties. Let them party on their own salary like all the rest of us. I was 50 this year and could not afford a party.
13:25 August 27, 2012 by cogito
#6. why pay an absurd amount of taxes and then pay again every time....

because "free" healthcare is always expensive. Moreover, it's seldom healthy. And there's little care.
09:43 August 28, 2012 by karex

So true, unfortunately.
17:51 August 28, 2012 by Swedishmyth
It's inconsistent to advocate the use of force (e.g. taxes) and turn around and become surprised when it's used imprudently.

That's what force IS.
10:36 September 1, 2012 by Mo
"in a country that is 4th out of 183 in the Corruption perceptions index" - the most important word in this sentence is perception. Given that all the print media is dependent upon government subsidies there has until recently been little coverage or interest in writing about corruption - fortunately that seems to be changing.
14:06 September 2, 2012 by cogito
Mo, not only the print media. Swedish TV and Radio is even more dependent upon government.

Perceptions are formed by the media.
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