Hotel room with a marble bath for 1.4 million rubles. How much money Russians pay for business trips of Minister Manturov and other officials
Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)
Organisation: Transparency International – Russia
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 25/06/2019
Credit: Alexander Avtonagov, Alexander Vavilov, Roman Romanovsky, Igor Sergeev
We analyzed the travel expenses of the Russian government and of all ministries and departments and found out that, while on business trips, many officials stay at extremely expensive hotels at the expense of the state budget. The price runs as high as $1,600 per person per night.
This project reveals that millions of rubles have been spent illegally from the budget to cover the travel expenses of Russian officials. They rent hotel rooms for the prices exceeding the set travel expense limits. The government does not control expenses in any way; neither does it force officials to return the excessively spent funds. The latter is covered by the state budget. In other words, it is covered from the pockets of taxpayers.The lack of necessary control allows officials affording themselves such luxury. The budget for travel expenses could be significantly reduced, which would save lots of money.
Our project has demonstrated that there are tools for the control over the travel expenses of officials. It has also stimulated the authorities to control the spending of their employees. The Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation has recognized that officials are massively exceeding the costs of business trips. Now we expect the return of excessively spent money to the budget.
To conduct a profound investigation, we needed to find all the relevant government procurement (namely hotel rental) across all government agencies. Given the huge amount of public procurement contracts concluded by federal authorities and the fact that they were disguised, we had to use in-depth search techniques. We also tried to parse purchases by keywords, which greatly facilitated the search.
Most of the data was presented in scanned PDF format which can only be handled manually. We tried to automate the process as much as possible. We created an Excel table where we put all the costs and calculated whether there was an excess of the limit. Thus, we were able to calculate how much the authorities could save.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The most difficult thing was to analyze a huge amount of data related to the cost of each trip of each particular official per year. Despite the complex data format, due to which we had to work manually a lot, we were able to automate the process of information retrieval and data analysis as much as possible.
We believe that our project deserves winning because we managed to not only extract a lot of data from a large array of numbers and discover trends and problems, but also to identify violations of the law using this data and legally qualify this. This will greatly help to change the current situation in the country.
What can others learn from this project?
We believe that our project can help others to learn how to use the data efficiently so that it is not just data for the sake of data and beautiful visualization, but rather a tool that can be used to identify problems and violations of law and to make a change.