Using Cost Norms Analyses to Reveal Subsidy Fraud in Out-contracted Public Transport Services

Using Cost Norms Analyses to Reveal Subsidy Fraud in Out-contracted Public Transport Services


T Mathisen, F Jørgensen, Bodø Graduate School of Business, NO


By taking a Norwegian much-discussed fraud case in public transport as a starting point, the paper demonstrates how transport authorities using simple cost norm models relatively easily can reveal transport firms? attempts to conduct subsidy fraud.


In Norway, as in many other countries, the public transport authorities? pecuniary compensation to the operators for running non-profit routes is based on expected total operating costs (gross contracts) and expected revenues (net contracts). The subsidies are determined either through standardized cost- and income norms, negotiations or competitive tendering. As far as the Norwegian ferry sector is concerned, the subsidies given to each ferry operator, have been set through negotiations involving a high degree of trust between operators and transport authorities based on long-term relationships. The direct relationship between subsidy level on the one hand and reported operating costs and revenues on the other hand, encourages, of course, the operators to overstate costs and to understate revenues with the aim of increasing profit.

In November 2002 it was disclosed by the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (ØKOKRIM) that one of the biggest ferry companies in Norway, Ofoten and Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskap ASA (OVDS), had violated this trust and intentionally manipulated their accounting figures for over a decade. When the court passed judgement in August 2004, it was revealed that the company had reported too low revenues and too high costs and in this way swindled the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communication for about 113 million NOK (about 14 000 000 ?) during the period 1993 to 2002. The case was characterized as an example of serious economic crime and received extensive publicity in the press. In the following judgement, the company was fined about 72 million NOK (9 000 000 ?) and five members of the top management were imprisoned for up to 3.5 years. To our knowledge, this was the first time in Norway that members of a company?s top management was fined and imprisoned even though the court could not prove that they have benefited personally.

Counsel for the defence of the ferry company put forward the argument that the government should have been able to reveal the fraud at an earlier stage. Clearly, the absence of use of standardized cost norms and/or incomplete such norms, do not enable the local transport authorities to check for and react on significant reported cost deviations. As will be demonstrated in this paper, a simple linear multiproduct cost model with two easily available output variables could have indicated the significant cost deviations caused by this fraud. Hence, the aim of this paper is to use the ?OVDS-case? to demonstrate how the local transport authorities using cost norms can disclose significant deviations from expected operating costs so that subsidy fraud can be revealed at an early stage.

In order to discuss the problem, we analyse accounting and output data for 55 crossings operated by 21 companies from 1995 to 2004. The data set thus includes observations of accounting and output figures both during and after the period of fraud. Using a multiproduct cost function, both panel data analysis and cross-sectional analysis can be applied. For all the years between 1995 and 2002, the dummy variable indicating crossings operated by this company was significant with a positive sign. The prejudiced hypothesis that this company, because of fraud (overcharging), operated more expensively than other operators, was thus confirmed at a high degree of certainty. Another interesting thing which we worked out was that after the crime was revealed in 2002, the dummy variable indicating this company was no longer significant; the fact that the company was charged for fraud, but still not sentenced, changed the behaviour towards more reliable reported cost figures.

This work provides a good example of how public authorities contracting out services can relatively easily reveal attempts to conduct subsidy fraud by putting together output and accounting information. Another significant positive effect of using standardized cost norms is that such norms have a general deterrent effect. When the transport operators perceive that the probability of being caught and punished for such frauds is high, they are less likely to commit them.


Association for European Transport