No More Swedish House Mafia: the Swedish Secret Ingredient to Eradicate Corruption, Part I/III

Swedish House Mafia: a Secret Ingredient to Eradicate Corruption

With this post, I would like to share with you, Periscopers, what I learned of corruption in Sweden during my stay in Malmo for two exciting weeks. My inspiration derives from my recent participation in SI Summer Academy for Young Professionals. First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Swedish Institute for granting me this opportunity and encourage all of you to apply for the Sustainable Public Management Program next year. I also express my heartfelt thanks to people who have made the academy possible and those who have shared their experiences.

So, let us learn from the best to eradicate corruption. Here is my reflection on what I learned of corruption and fighting thereof in Sweden:

(1)     Sweden is the 6 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Rank in Sweden averaged 4.13 from 1995 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 6 in 2001 and a record low of 1 in 2008. Accordingly, there is no surprise that corruption is not a significant obstacle to business in Sweden, regarded as almost non-existent, and, obviously, not part of cultural tradition.

(2)     Although Sweden in comparison to other countries is spared from the worst excesses of corruption, corruption in Sweden exists and varies considerably across the country. By international standards, the specifics of Swedish scandals might not be seen as very sensational (just compare a bribe of hunting fee in Sweden to millions of dollars bribes all over the world), but in the context of Swedish life there are real examples of impropriety and corruption. Involving politicians and high officials, these scandals have serious repercussions and resignations of the entire political leadership or administration management.

(3)     The fact that Swedish authorities are viewed as leading when it comes to fair and impartial institutions is not in any way a guarantee of absence of corruption. Corruption in Sweden seems to be a more pressing issue on the local than on the national level. Normally, national or supranational levels are considered the most corrupt in the eyes of the general public. It is the other way around in Sweden. Interestingly, the corruption index does not cover local and regional councils, where most political decisions are made in Sweden. Municipalities and county councils make up around 70 percent of public administration in the country.

(4)     A high corruption rating does not mean that Swedish can beat their chest and say they are still almost the best student in the classroom. Good can get better and there is plenty to work on. For instance, whistleblower protection is some of the issues Swedes are working on. In 2016, Sweden became the first Scandinavian country to pass a dedicated whistleblower protection law. The legislation contains many European and international standards, including protection for all public and private sector employees, and the right to disclose information to the public. In the survey “Breaking the Silence”, carried out by the Swedish Anti-Corruption Institute, a clear majority of 38 small and medium-sized enterprises-respondents welcomed a statutory requirement to have whistleblowing system as a confidential protection for whistleblowers.

(5)     Recently, many countries, including Sweden, have strengthened their legal framework against corruption in regards to bribery of foreign public officials as a result of international anti-corruption efforts. With the recent legislative changes in force, Sweden seems to have strong legislation against bribery, both domestic and foreign bribery. At the same time, Sweden has not yet reformed its laws on corporate liability for the bribery of foreign public officials.

(6)     A sceptic might think that Sweden would not be a good case for studying corruption and fighting thereof. However, in my view, Sweden as well as other Nordic countries seem to present a puzzle in this discussion. For example, they have very large public sectors, interventionist governments, and large bureaucracies with lots of discretionary power over various types of regulations. Yet, the most commonly used comparative measures of national levels of corruption show precisely the opposite to be the case, namely that the Scandinavian countries have the lowest levels of corruption.

(7)     Last but not the least, in my view, the Swedish phenomenon derives from the great freedom of information and transparency. Even before the whistleblower law was passed, Sweden had the distinction of having the world’s oldest freedom of information. Proclaimed in 1766, it gives all people the right to disclose information to the media, excluding certain sensitive information. Freedom of information is hardly unique to Sweden, but in few other countries facts, information and data are so readily available. In Sweden, you just ask and expect to get an almost immediate answer. This might prove that having more information tends to help people make better decisions and the economy to work better.

What other secret ingredients to fight corruption do you know? How big is a problem of corruption in your country? Share your thoughts and ideas in comments down below as they will be useful for all the readers.


Tetiana is an investigator at the Business Ombudsman Council. Tetiana came to the team with 5 years of experience with international audit firm, where she was a senior associate and headed Corporate Compliance Practice.

In 2015, Tetiana was working at Munich office of international audit firm.

Tetiana graduated from law department of Kyiv National Economic University named after Vadym Hetman.