Bergs Municipality (Kommun) – the new Wild West of Sweden

In the last blog I wrote about our everyday life and challenges of living in the wilderness. One thing we did not mention was a Swedish bureaucracy and that some companies, which you depend on, can make your life quite difficult and sometimes even unsafe. These companies have a “natural monopoly” in the region they operate, so you can’t just pick and choose another one. And it’s obvious that  “good service” is not a concept the local companies deal with. This blog is not a romantic picture of life in the wilderness, so if you don’t want to read about worries then skip it now.

Sweden is well known for its socialism and cohesion, but we have encountered a bureaucracy and obstructions from our small regional municipality with just 7,000 inhabitants. The municipality, that wants and needs more newcomers, and who calls itself to be the second best municipality where you can start your business. A municipality, whose employees seem to protect each other and their contractors. Maybe because everyone knows each other for many years and all are connected to each other? Maybe this is because they don’t like to be asked critical questions? In any case, there is a pattern of an unhealthy power structure in the regional municipality.

When we moved here, we were warned by local people not to argue to the municipality. “The municipality has power and you will have to ask them for some permissions in the future”, – the reason was. We did not think about that specifically at that moment, because rules and laws are same for everyone and we live in a transparent and democratic society.

We were curious to meet employees from the municipality and the first meeting we had with them was really positive. We felt to be heard heard and they were interested in our ideas. But unfortunately it should turn out to be a short pleasure.

Project “Island” – how the municipality (don’t) communicate the upcoming projects, which can affect the local life. 

Before we bought our house, Lövnäset, we had heard about a Swiss architectural project on an island in neighborhood, but as we heard from local people, that technically it was impossible for that project to be realized because of restrictions on establishing a drainage system on isolated island and it seemed to be impossible to solve it. The island where the project is meant to be is located just in front of  Lövnäset (350 meters), so of course we had a natural interest in following the development closely.

The project is a modern architectural project and can accommodate up to 20 guests at a time. The former owner of Lövnäset had thoroughly familiarized himself with the laws on nature protection and how the planned facilities would have affected the environment, and he  asked the municipality some very relevant and critical questions about the implementation of the project and the consequences for the environment. The municipality decided not to answer him. And this kind of tactics as it showed up later on, is a tendency, not just a single case.

We took over the house on September 1st and with the conviction that we would be the only real neighbors to be heard before giving permission to build the hotel right in vicinity of our property. We knew that there had been a meeting on August 22nd, when the architects had to elaborate on the possible solutions for the drainage system. We were convinced that we would be involved afterwards. That is why we wrote to the municipality the first week in September with inquire about the “neighbors hearing”, but we were told that they (the municipality) had decided to draw a “distance line” of 200 meters, so we should not be heard, because our property is located 350 meters from the planned project. This is not entirely consistent with the fact that other house owners were contacted and asked by municipality – even if their houses were located one kilometer away from the project. Furthermore, municipality corrected me on that I used the wrong term “hotel” project, because in reality it was just a “small campsite”. A “campsite”, consisting of 6 houses, a library (to be more correct it’s a whiskey bar), two saunas – one of them had to be at the end of a long bridge, a boat arrival hall and a dining room on a bridge. Based on drawings from the architect company this is a fairly large and complex construction. In addition, the municipality announced that there was still a long way for the project to be approved, and there was not a big chance, that it would be approved. A few days later we found the architect company on Instagram, where they in one post were happy to announce that they had been granted a building permit and the building phase of project should start as early as in 2020. The conclusion here must be that one of the parties is lying.

Orest started a little research about those who owned the neighboring island and the building project, and he came across some very compromising material. A married Swiss couple who owns several holding companies. Some of them are under liquidation. Two of companies have identical websites, where you can only find a few anonymous lines about what those companies deal with.  There is no board of directors in any of those companies and only one company has a balance of CHF 20,000. It is very suspicious as those companies run million-class luxury building projects both in Hollywood and Saint Tropez as well as other expensive locations. Orest should also find that the hotel on our neighboring island must be a place for members of a closed club for reach businessmen. A club, where you can only get membership, if you are recommended by one of the already existing members and in that way you can pass the “admission test”. A club, where members help each other to invest money in profitable businesses. The club, where rich people from Russia, China and India are more than welcome. All this researched material, in our eyes, reminds about well-organized money laundering structure. One person, we know and who has in-depth knowledge of such cases, also confirmed our theory. Therefor we sent our concerns and the material about our potential neighbors to the municipality. Unfortunately, they have chosen not to return on our inquiry.

1stCase: with a local contractor who holds regional monopoly on their services.

Another case that is of less serious character, but it still describes the problem of the regional municipality who has too many “hats on” and too much power in one hands. The case is about something, as little attractive as sludge removal from sewage tank at a private property. And here we have two ugly cases.

As newcomers in the local environment, you are a little bit unsure how to do things in a correct way. Naturally I needed help and I wrote back in June to the company responsible for the sludge emptying, that we wanted to book time for sludge removal in the house we rent this coming autumn. It was the time of year, as we heard the company would come to our little remote village. I got an email from a person “B.H.”, who I thought was an employee of the sludge disposal company, where he wrote that I should call on a given phone number. I called a few times but no one answered or returned back on messages I left. However, I was unsure whether our order left on the answering machine had been noted, so I talked to a sludge man I met while he was on a job in the neighbor village. He was helpful, and wrote everything down, promising it was going to be fine, and they would come in the fall. It was autumn and the sludge service came to our village to many properties, but unfortunately ours was not serviced. Then I wrote again to B.H. and asked when they would come. I got a message back with notice, that I did not ordered service and I only I could do was to order an emergency service with price 3 times higher than normal rate… I showed B.H. the email that I had written and asked him for the service, but he responded that he didn’t receive anything from me. I wondered because I thought I remembered his name. Fortunately, I found the mails where B.H. himself replied to the same mail he claimed he never received. When I confronted him on that fact, the answer was again the same – that I can order emergency service for a higher price. No comments, no excuses, that they may have made a mistake by themselves. 

Unfortunately described episode with that company was not the only one for us. It was even more absurd in another episode with the property we bought this year. The former owner of Lövnäset ordered sludge removal service. The emptying had to take place shortly after our takeover of the property and we were told that we would be contacted before the company’s vehicle should arrive to the property. But no one called us and after two weeks after planned date, there were no signs of that somebody was on our property. Track signs on the grass after a 10-tons heavy truck which had to turn around – guaranteed we had to see those signs, because even our SUV with its weight of 2.5 tons lefts always tracks on the grass. And the sewage tank of approx. 2000 liters was full. We contacted the company, to hear when they had planned to come and to our surprise we were told by “B.H.” that the truck was on our property and job was done one week before. Convinced that there was a mistake and that they may have been emptied on a wrong property, we sent them pictures of the sewage tank filled and wrote that it would be impossible to have such a heavy truck on the ground without leaving a single sign on grass. With no comments on our arguments B.H. repeated his words – the truck was on your property and job was done. In addition it was mentioned, that driver experienced difficulties during the job: “The water was constantly running into the tank from the house – it seemed that there were some problems with pump.” Physically the described situation couldn’t happen on our property because of the specifics of the system – the property doesn’t have electricity and there was no chance that water was constantly running from the house. We manually pump water from the lake into a plastic tank of 1000 liters and that water is used during about two weeks. Absurd and direct lies from that company. We therefore asked B.H. to provide any GPS log data files, and more important – headers with main metadata from those. No real data was provided, but a single screenshot from GPS recording device in the truck. And, surprisingly, exactly at Lövnäset the position of truck was manually edited. B.H. pointed, that the position can only be edited manually, when the truck is actually located at the location which is being edited.

Kind of funny explanation, and it was more absurd for Orest, as he worked many years with location recording systems and he didn’t buy that one explanation. He just asked again for the data he required, but no comments from B.H. were received – only the same thing repeated: “they did their job”.  At the end B.H. sent an “update” – with recorded times of service provided on neighboring properties and, as it was funny – the time of “job done” at our property didn’t match the previously given data. Previous owner of the property has to pay for the “done job” and he will do it – he doesn’t have any choice – it is an absurd situation. Anyway, the lies and missing job may stay on their conscience. But the real issue is that fact that the company has a monopoly on that service in the region and next time we are dependent on them again. And even more serious problem here is , that the person B.H. is employed by the municipality and in his role as public employee he acts as a defense lawyer for a private company and he is directly interested in that the company can earn money on us. This is a sign of power abuse. 

2ndcase with another local company, who holds a “Natural Monopoly” for services in the region. Härjeåns Nät AB

Are you still reading this? Let’s step to the next one. And the next issue is electricity, and unfortunately, this is much more serious thing for us and can have negative consequences for our future. Our new house is not connected to the local electricity grid, and even before we bought the property, we were assisted by the municipality to calculate the price of establishing connection to the grid line, which is located 280 meters from the house. Municipal employee “L.H.” was very helpful – she contacted the company “Härjeåns Nät AB”, who owns the electric grid facilities and who has “a natural monopoly” in the region, and she got an offer with price of 125,000 SEK.  When we one month later bought the house, we contacted “Härjeåns Nät AB” in order to confirm the offer for the job to be done. They returned with a price of around 145,000 SEK, including VAT, – so it was well matched with the price that the municipality had received. Orest is curious by his nature and he found out, that the prices are calculated according to the method, provided by the public authority “Energy Market Inspection”, which has a function to control the market prices level.  And according to their own example, Orest calculated that the price of service should be significantly lower of the given offer – less than 80,000 SEK including VAT.  Therefore, he wrote to the Energy Market Inspection with request to check the offer – this is “Inspection’s” function. The “Inspection”  sent our request further to the Härjeåns Nät AB (!), and the answer was … that the price is now 300,000 SEK !!!! No explanation about previous offers, but the last one was based on calculation for a much longer distance to the power line, based on conclusion “that other alternatives are not possible in this case”. We just can’t express here, how shocked we are. We wrote back both to the company and the “Inspection” with request to explain the situation and that fact that the two first offers were twice as cheap as the last one. Is this just a punishment for one’s curiosity?  Three weeks later we still haven’t heard from any of them. In addition to the 300,000 SEK we have to pay for an electrician for the actual connection the distribution power line to the property and other expenses related to the power line costs. So we can end up with a bill, equal to more than half value of the property itself. This fact is not inline with the municipality’s ambition to attract more families to move to the Bergs region. As a newcomer here you have no protection against what you can call “wild west” laws, – you are totally dependent on those who has a “natural monopoly” on services you can’t live without.

We just want end this blog by saying that we have set up our company BigLakeMedia.se and it’s supposed to get “massive support” from the Berg municipality – the statistics say that this region is Sweden’s second best municipality to start a new business in.  It actually did start positively with a constructive conversation with one person from an agency, which in collaboration with the municipality help new businesses to establish themselves. That person also offered us to find answers to some questions she couldn’t answer at the meeting and that we were always welcome to contact her for advices.  But… she never returned and today it’s almost two months later, we still have nothing heard and she does not respond on our reminding emails. It turned out that she works in close collaboration with the municipality, so we actually begin to worry that there is some reason reason why she has stopped communicating with us. Do those guys discuss us as unwanted newcomers? Do we ask too many questions, they don’t like? You may think we are paranoiac, but we feel that we are “black listed” and the regional officials are just bullying us. But the warning we received from local people in the village begins to show its true face. When we ask people in the village if we will get a building permit from the municipality (when we will need it), everybody is convinced, that the municipality won’t give us any permission.

We both are used to discuss any questions openly and directly with all involved parts, but in this case there is no discussion, because the Bergs Municipality has chosen to ignore our requests.  

All this could be a coincidence, but you return back to one Swedish classic quote: “When people with power stop listening to common people, then it’s time to take the given power from them”.Welcome to the Wild West of Sweden. 

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