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Croatia's blisteringly expensive telegram service soldiers on

Forget India's semi-shuttered telegram service. Marko Rakar says, "Croatian post (btw. we are part of EU since last night) is still accepting and sending telegrams. They also have price list and they charge by the number of words. So a telegram with up to 50 words is 41 Croatian Kuna (which is about €5), while up to 100 words is 61 Croatian Kuna which is about €8." Cory 13

Butterfly in a skull's eye-socket


Marko Popadic's photo "Oko" captures a spooky, sweet moment in which a butterfly alights in the eye-socket of a skull.

Oko (via Neatorama)

Croatian transparency activists publish enormous database of government procurements, pointing the way to detecting corruption and fraud


Marko Rakar, leader of a kind of Croatian version of Wikileaks, has once again made a stir in Croatia. Previously, Rakar published a database showing rampant voter-fraud (this triggered a constitutional crisis and reform effort).

Now, Rakar's latest project is a database of "All the public procurement data for government spending since July 1, 2009, in easily searchable form." Though the data is all from publicly accessible government sites, Rakar's structuring of it in searchable form allows Croatians to find interconnections between elected officials and the companies they give contracts to, revealing potential fraud and corruption in the system, which is widely believed to be mired in fraud

First it is easy to use the tool to understand how much money each agency spent and where (this site covers not only government and ministries, but also agencies, municipalities, public utility companies and basically all entities which are by law obliged to follow public procurement law). Furthermore, it is easy to track and identify "winners" in the public procurement field and it is really easy to spot highly unusual contractors; for example companies which do business with a single government entity, companies with a huge amount of their turnover that only do business with government, or companies which have unusually high profit rates.

We have found a number of companies which appear to be founded only to service a single government contract. Journalists have already found a number of companies which have a number of multimillion contracts and are at the same time huge donors to the ruling party. We have found a horse farm which bid on and won a contract to lay underground power cable, we have found a company which is related to the Speaker of the House which reports unusually high profit rates (50% and above) worth millions (both in Croatian and US currency) and which primarily deals with advertising in public spaces (schools, hospitals and similar). We have found one company which belonged to the Minister of Interior which also received multimillion security related contracts with the government (while he is still in the office).

Rakar and I had a chat a few months ago, and he had hilarious -- and frightening -- stories of police seizure of his equipment, and of having to give technical support to the police forensics team, who couldn't figure out his dual-boot setup. He was thinking of replacing his keyboards with Das Keyboards without any key-labels, just to watch the investigation team try to touch-type on them (Croatian forensic procedure prohibits connecting third-party equipment to seized computers, lest they taint the evidence).

Croatian Transparency Activist Marko Rakar Making Waves Again

(Image: Marko Rakar 2, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 57152978@N08's photostream)