Thursday, January 15, 2009

Portugal Public Spending

Portugal, a country I love... with lots of sunny beaches and warm inviting people...

Unfortunately, also one place where public spending is done without any sense of responsibility - there are people using our tax money in completely insane ways - and something must be done to stop it and bring them to justice.

I'll introduce you to how things work around here when it comes to public spending. As we're talking about precious tax payer's money, public institutions usually have to make public inquiries whenever they need anything.
"Hey, we need 3 computers with these specs" - and several different suppliers make their best offers, with one being selected (the one offering the best price/services package - usually, but not always... but that's another matter.)

However, there are things that often fall out of that regime and can be chosen directly by the "directors" bypassing that public inquiry stage. Meaning: they can buy things directly from who they want - at any price they see fit!

Our government makes all that information public, but in a site that is nearly impossible to use; where you can't really search for anything interesting and analyze the data.
Fortunately for all of us, some people had a better idea... they scraped all the public data and made it easily accessible to anyone wanting to find where all our money is going into. That site is called the "transparency portal" and it's already a very big hit.

In there you can find things like:

1) spending over 10.000,00 euros in a GPS unit for a public school - in a country where we're told there's no money to help students have lower school prices.

2) Buying:1 cabinet; 2 computer tables; 3 chairs: 97.560,00 Euros(!!!)

3) In a place called Vale de Cambra, if you think a Ferrari is expensive, just wait to see how much their 16 seater mini-bus cost: 2.922.000,00 €
Almost 3 million euros!?! I sincerely hope that's just a typo!

4) In Alentejo, repariring a photocopier is an expensive proposition:
Reparing 2 WorkCentre Pró 412 and one WorkCentre PE 16: 45.144,00 €

5) In Alcobaça, the town hall at least had the children's best interest at hand: 8.849,60€ in toys

6) Back in Alentejo: 375.600,00 Euros get you "14x 3 chair modules + 10x 2 chair modules"

Let's do some quick math... 14x3 + 10x2 =  62 chairs.
That makes about 6.058,00 Euros per chair!
But, in a country where you spend more time at an hospital waiting, I guess they're just making sure you wait comfortably...

7) In another town hall, 3 computers plus accessories cost "just" 380.666,00 €
(I'm guessing they're buying supercomputers to do some heavy office work, like browsing the internet and writing documents and spreadsheets!)

8) Talking about computers... if you're wondering how Bill Gates and Microsoft became such an "empire", look at one of our expenses: License Renewal for Microsoft software: 14.360.063,00 €
(Now, do you understand why so many governments are betting on free-open-source-software solutions?)

9) Just one other, nearly comical example: In one of our Universities, the Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa spent 5.806,08 € for 9072 rolls of toilet paper!

That may not seem much (and is fact peanuts when you compare it to the millions spent on Microsoft software), but bare with me.
A quick search revealed that I can get toilet paper at about 0,16 Euros each roll from any ordinary shop.

But, even when buying such a large quantity, the best that university could do was buying toilet paper at  4x that price: 0,64 Euros/unit!

Can't I just point them to the right supplier and demand the price difference? Wouldn't that be good? I could even offer them a special 50% discount!

Update: a colleague has checked this out and found out that, at least in the students bathrooms, they use those larger "industrial" sized paper rolls - that might help explain the higher price - though I sincerely think they sure could get a better deal when buying over 9,000 of it!

The list for incredible and unbelievable deals goes on and on:

There are people spending over 650.000 euros in red and white wine.

"Flight for 1 person - Faro / Zagreb and return ticket from Dec 3 - Dec 6,  2008" - 33.745,00 euros.

"Christmas lighting for the city of estremoz" - 1.915.000,00 euros

"Rented Tent for Museum opening" - 1.236.500,00 euros

"6 piaggio Fly bag kits for scooter" - 106.596,00 euros
(you could buy 6 full cars for that amount!!!)

Not to mention a very mysterious "Router" that was bought for 35.000,00 Euros. A router you can find online being sold for around 400 euros!

Even fixing a simple door can be enough to make you want to cry... when they charge you over 140.000 Euros for it!

This is just data pertaining to the last 4 months or so... you can't help but wonder what else we'll be able to find if we dig a little deeper into it...

I'm sure some of these records are wrong, due to bad descriptions, typos, etc. But even so, there's a lot to be looked at. And I just want people to start taking notice of what's going on.


  1. I applaud the spirit, but crying wolf while quoting figures that have not been verified is doing a disservice to the citizens of Portugal.

    Worse yet, it could give some corrupt or incompetent politician a perfect excuse to dismiss these gotchas as false and unreliable.

    Something to think of?

  2. @Art

    The issue is: those figures/descriptions are available from an official government site - one that has been around for over 2 years and was yet to have a working search function - rendering it useless.

    Now that people started talking about it; they tell us everything will be up and running in 10 days!

    I know that there are lots of errors in those numbers - and that's exactly the point. They should start treating these figures seriously, and not as something "no one will ever care about."

    At least these articles had some impact and made some people came forth and explain these mistakes. (And that was its intended purpose.)


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