Following a series of investigative journalism reports into corruption in Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast, an independent review board was appointed to get to the bottom of the alleged culture of corruption.
Having interviewed about 40 top-level local politicians, city agency bosses, as well as leaders of local companies, the report, published Thursday, showed that a dedication to “pragmatism and results” had lead the city’s leadership to undermine principles of democracy and good governance.
“Values such as professional autonomy, procedures, transparency and impartiality were partly obscured by the ‘Gothenburg Spirit’,” the report concluded, while adding that among the city’s leadership that “spirit” was a source of pride.
“For the political elite, this self-perception has to be kept alive,” Erik Amnå, the Örebro University political science professor who led the review, told the TT news agency.
“The former mayor (Social Democrat Göran Johansson) very clearly incarnates the city’s self-image, but even today’s politicians and bosses want to carry on the proud tradition,” Amnå added.
Researchers sent a survey out to more than 40,000 city employees and lower-level local politicians to get to grips with the cases of corruption that took place between 2001 and 2008, with several arrests, convictions, and four cases still ongoing in the Swedish justice system.
Half of all survey respondents said the bribery scandal uncovered by the media was “only the tip of the iceberg”. Many said they themselves had been offered bribes.
The report concluded that the city of Gothenburg had fallen prey to a combination of organizational, legal and political weaknesses.
“The concentration of power created anxiousness to fall in line, which hampered professional diversity, civil courage, and openness, sometimes even among the political opposition,” the report noted.
It recommended several steps to improve the city’s management, including an emphasis on good governance and impartial public servants, while making the distinctions between politicians and city employees more clear.
The report authors further recommended that recruitment be professionalized to look at merits. It suggested that the city appoint one specific person to whom all would-be concerns can be lodged by city employees.
The “Gothenburg Spirit” was held responsible for putting a dampener on any would-be whistleblowers.
“The problem is that it (the Gothenburg Spirit) prioritizes results, what’s best for the city, while also toning down conflicts and opposition,” Amnå told TT.
“That means the whistleblower is seen as a rat, and a traitor.”