Jobs agency head mired in phone bill scandal

Jobs agency head mired in phone bill scandal
The head of Sweden's public employment agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) risks being sacked following reports she racked up more than 300,000 kronor ($46,000) in mobile phone charges in an emerging scandal.

Angeles Bermudez-Svankvist, who has led Sweden's jobs agency for the past five years, managed to rack up more than 15,000 kronor per month in mobile phone data use charges on her work phone, according to documents reviewed by the Aftonbladet newspaper.

Between March 2012 and August 2013, a period which included more than a dozen trips abroad, Bermudez-Svankvist's total mobile phone bill came to 311,000 kronor.

The revelations, which came to light on Friday, have left Bermudez-Svankvist's future as head of the agency in doubt.

"The board of the Public Employment Agency no longer has confidence in the leadership, including Angeles Bermudez-Svankvist," board member Joachim Berner told TV4 news.

The chair of the board, Christina Johansson, told the Expressen newspaper the board has informed the government of their concerns about Bermudez-Svankvist, saying the report about the sky-high phone bills was "one of several pieces of the puzzle".

"We are worried about meeting our goals and our effectiveness, but more importantly how the public perceives the employment agency. When things like this crop up, it doesn't increase confidence in the agency," she told the paper.

The government is ultimately responsible for hiring and firing the head of the agency.

A spokesperson for the jobs agency told Aftonbladet that Bermudez-Svankvist's phone bill was so high because she neglected to turn off the data roaming function on her telephone when she travelled abroad.

Speaking with Expressen, the embattled agency head claimed she "had no idea about the function". In an interview with Aftonbladet she placed blame for the charges on the agency's IT department.

"It really upsets me that the telephone unit of the IT department didn't have procedures for putting a ceiling on data roaming charges when you're in countries that don't have an agreement with Telia," she said.

Last spring, ST, the Union of Civil Servants conducted a survey that found a great deal of discontent among the employment agency's staff as well as frustration with leadership.

A dentist by trade, Bermudez-Svankvist has led the agency for the past five years, being named the public authority boss of the year in 2009 by Veckans Affärer magazine.

According to a review conducted by the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, she is among the highest paid agency heads appointed by the government, commanding a salary of 142,000 kronor per month.

In a Friday afternoon press conference, Bermudez-Svankvist made no indication she had plans to step down, saying everything was "business as usual", but that she was surprised by the board's reaction.

"This is a matter for the government, not the board," she told reporters.

TT/The Local/dl

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