Everyone in Riga knows about the scandal of Dienvidu Bridge. "Nothing works here. Too much corruption. Look at that bridge - an engineer came from Sweden and said we could have built a tunnel for the same money," the driver told me on the way from the airport. I smiled politely, thinking he was exaggerating.
Now a government report has confirmed what Latvians already knew. An official audit published this week found that at least fifty million dollars were wasted on shoddy tendering and contracting procedures. "Before taking its decision to commence construction on the bridge, the municipality had not finalised either the project, its deadlines or its result," the audit office said. Contracts were based on convoluted currency exhange deals to hide the true amount of money being borrowed for the construction of the bridge. "Over several years double payments were being made for the same things," the audit concluded. "This could be incompetence if it was just one case, but these payments were being made every month."
Not surprisingly, construction costs ballooned from an initial estimate of 108 million lats to 570 million - more or less the same as the total amount the government now finds itself having to cut the state budget by to keep to the terms of its IMF loan. Criminal charges are being investigated. The bridge itself, in the words of the new prime minister, is "of very average quality".