Accountability and integrity – the backdrop of Swedish society

Aida Hadzialic - Photograph: Mikael Lundgren/Swedish government offices

Sweden, like other Nordic countries, places a premium on integrity. Strong moral rectitude is the cornerstone for any society to progress and prosper, says Benedict Lopez.

Politicians and public sector officials in Sweden are subjected to intense public scrutiny and accountability.

I vividly remember, when I was in Stockholm in 2013, the CEO of Business Sweden, Ulf Berg, was fired after a whistleblower alerted authorities about his high expenses and costly consultants. Berg was subsequently required to pay back up to SEK55, 000 incurred for taxi fares.

A few days ago, Aida Hadzialic, 29, Minister for Upper Secondary Schools, Adult Education and Training, was forced to resign after she was caught by Malmo police in southern Sweden, near the border with Denmark, for driving in excess of the permitted alcohol level. She only had 0.2 grams per litre of alcohol in her blood, but it was an offence in Sweden. She was returning home after attending at an event in Copenhagen when she was stopped.

Aida, a refugee who immigrated to Sweden in 1992 at the age of five with her parents after fleeing the war in the Balkans, called the drink-driving incident “the greatest mistake of my life”. She had drunk only two glasses of wine before being stopped on the bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden.

Sweden comes down hard on those driving under the influence of alcohol (though this level of alcohol would not have been an offence in most EU countries). Aida candidly admitted her mistake and took full responsibility for her actions at a press conference in Stockholm.

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In all fairness to Aida, she was under the impression that at the time she started her journey from Copenhagen to Stockholm, the alcohol in her body had already been undetectable. Describing her decision to quit, the Social Democrat told reporters that she chose to relinquish her post because she believed what she had done was something seriously wrong.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said, “I did not try to persuade her not to resign but her decision shows that she is an honest politician and she should be praised.”

Aida had been seen as a promising young politician of the future. She had made history in 2014 when she was the youngest minister appointed to the Cabinet at the age of 27.

Nevertheless, kudos to the police for discharging their duties without fear or favour and to Aida for her integrity.

When I used to go out at night with my friends to our favourite watering hole in Stockholm during weekends, all of us only took the underground train because of the severity of the law relating to offenders driving in excess of the stipulated level of alcohol.

Aida joins the ranks of other politicians who were forced to resign to take responsibility for their actions. In Sweden, there have been similar precedents where politicians were forced to resign as a result of gaffes, inadvertent mistakes and being caught on the wrong side of the law.

Deputy Premier and Environment Minister Asa Romson of the Green party resigned in May after a series of blunders, the last being to describe the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States as “the accident of September 11”.

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Swedish Housing Minister, Mehmet Kaplan, resigned as a result of criticism of his ability to carry out his duties.

Mona Sahlin of the Social Democrats had to step down from her position as Sweden’s national coordinator against violent extremism after revelations that she gave false information on her bodyguard’s salary to help him secure a mortgage for an apartment he bought. Her bodyguard also resigned from his post.

Mona had provided written certification that her bodyguard earned SEK120,000 a month to enable him to buy an apartment, when he in fact earned only SEK43,000 a month.

Sweden, like other Nordic countries, places a premium on integrity. Strong moral rectitude is the cornerstone for any society to progress and prosper.

Integrity is an invaluable virtue that augments every aspect of our life, and its value means being completely truthful in every facet of our life.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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Peagie
Peagie
16 Aug 2016 5.38pm

Great article.