Economy, Europe, Globe, World

A hidden world… Corruption exposed

Corrupt officials and organizations across Europe may soon be placed under the critical eye of international tourism thanks to a new series of alternative tour groups.

Kyle Robertson

There is no denying that the past few years have been trying times for countries around the world.

Massive amounts of speculation and reckless practices by governments and financial institutions around the world have culminated in a global economic crisis; in the UK, Europe and elsewhere unprecedented numbers of people are out of work and inflation is growing. Many countries have tried to resolve the issues by enacting crushing austerity measures that serve only to restrict possible growth and drive themselves further into the hole of debt.

In the face of these troubles, many nations rely on a constant influx of tourists to survive; with the economic boost that tourism never fails to generate, it is little wonder why the UK and other nations have sought to polish up their image in recent years.

Certain groups of citizens, however, have a different idea; instead of trying to paint a shiny new face on the countries they call home, why not direct tourists toward the people and places responsible for the situation in the first place?

In a unique combination venture of citizen journalism and alternative tourism, and industry known as “corrupt tours” has sprung up in several European nations.

The groups are motivated by the desire to address economic and social justice issues and to raise awareness for their country’s situation in the larger world community.

Above all, however, the tours seek to expose the rampant fraud and waste that lead to the current economic recession. Prime attractions include government buildings where corruption and bribery are known to have taken place, unfinished construction projects that have wasted taxpayer money, and sites of questionable ethics and political dealings.

The first place this new form of tourism surfaced was in the Valencia province of Spain, the majority of its backers belonging to a former local multicultural newspaper. Due to the near unopposed domination of the region’s Popular political party, the same administrators have been re-elected for nearly 20 years; all the while with the same corrupt policies that have made Valencia the most debt-ridden city in Spain.

Ever Saturday, a group of journalists, teachers, students and involved citizens lead tourists on a journey across the city to 15 sites designated financial “black holes”, places where overspending, embezzlement of public monies and projects that were paid for but never carried out run rampant. It is estimated that such unnecessary works have cost Valencia nearly 60 billion Euros.

The information given on the tours is a compilation of research and reports from local newspapers, magazines and web pages, setting up a model of the city and explaining its development priorities, as well as how and why those priorities have not always been in the best interest of taxpayers. At some points tour guides even provide eyewitness accounts of how particular decisions have affected their own individual neighborhoods.

In the Czech Republic, another corrupt tours travel agency has recently started up, riding a wave of public disgust at revelations of extensive graft and monetary mismanagement in the country’s government.

In 2011, the Czech Republic was ranked 57th on an international list of countries with corrupt policies, ranking it alongside Namibia and Saudi Arabia.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the capital city of Prague; the company’s “best of the worst” tours include luxury villas owned by the small percentage of the city’s wealthy citizens, a funicular railway placed in a totally illogical location, a massive concrete mausoleum and an empty meadow hosting an Olympic stadium that was funded but never built.

Other sites of interest include a non-existent office building that 589 companies have registered as their headquarters and a series of hospitals known for shady tendering procedures.

The tours have quickly become a local hit, attracting everyone from foreign nationals to elementary school students. Souvenirs from the company are also packed with irony, such as anti-wiretapping devices and bearer shares; a form of non-transparent financial security which aids many in power in hiding their under the table dealings and which the Czech government has resisted banning.

Despite the renewed attention the tours have brought to Prague’s epidemic of corruption, it remains to be seen in the situation will improve; most Czech managers believe society would fall apart without some kind of corruption greasing its wheels, and citizens do not think the government is making good on its promises to reform even after the current prime minister fired four members of his cabinet.

Corrupt tour groups have also sprouted up right here in London, through a company called Occupy London Tours. Due to relative success of its first few ventures, the organization will soon begin to hold regular tours on Thursdays and Saturdays of specific locations around the city, as well as a full London tour in the near future.

Targeted areas include Mayfair, the primary destinations for hedge funds in Europe and a place the tour group calls a secretive institution lurking in the shadows of the world economy. As a home for the giants of the world of investment banking, Canary Wharf is also offered as a destination in order to tell the story of the economic crisis from where it all happened.

No matter what country they may be in, those who work in secrecy and through shady financial manipulations should beware; very soon, they could find themselves placed uncomfortably in the spotlight of tourist attention.

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