Znüni-gate: Bernese official found to have charged banana to expenses
The government in Canton Bern has been embroiled in scandal after some of its members were revealed to have added frivolous and cheap items to their public expenses. According to reporting from the Swiss media, taxpayers were billed for items ranging from wine and bread rolls to bananas.
Bernese official charged bread roll and banana to expenses
According to SRF's Kassensturz programme, Bernese security director Philippe Müller (FDP) expensed several unnecessary items between 2018 and 2019. The bills given to taxpayers included a 95 centime (rappen) charge for a bread roll, a 20 cent charge for a banana and a bill for 3,20 francs for a Butterbretzel - labelled in his expenses as “Znüni PhM,” a reference to the Swiss version of elevenses and the reason why the scandal is now called Znüni-gate.
Government councillors in Bern earn a salary of 280.000 francs a year and receive a flat-rate expense allowance of 8.000 francs. “As a government councillor, he travels to conferences, and invites guests from business and politics at the canton's expense,” wrote SRF’s Christof Schnieder.
Officials from across the political spectrum embroiled in expenses scandal
Müller was not alone in having the taxpayer pay for frivolous expenses. In 2019, Bern’s economic director Christoph Ammann (SP) submitted a bill for a hat and scarf worth 30 francs and a 20-franc parking ticket. He also expensed a 141,50-franc lunch held in July 2021 and an order for 24 bottles of wine for “apéros and gifts” totalling 674,40 francs.
The director of healthcare Pierre-Alain Schnegg (SVP) also joined in the tipples, with Kassensturz reporting he charged a champagne and merlot-fuelled “business lunch” to public expenses. The cost? 627 francs. SRF noted that based on data from 2018 to 2021, male Bernese councillors are more likely to expense costs than women.
Experts question why Bernese officials expense cheap items
“With an annual gross income of almost 280.000 francs, I find this very petty and embarrassing,” noted Daniel Wyrsch, managing director of the Bern State Employees’ Association. Kuno Schedler, professor of public management at the University of St. Gallen, added that some of the smaller expenses are especially odd, noting that to process the banana charge “alone costs 25 to 30 francs… And the question arises: If someone expenses 20 centimes, what else does he expense?”
SVP national councillor from Solothurn Rémy Wyssmann said the findings were cause for concern, joking that “for me, the canton of Bern is now a pure banana republic.” He encouraged the residents of all Swiss cantons to “take a closer look at the government councils in your cantons and ask for extracts from the expense reports”, adding that it would be interesting to see what officials in the federal government list as expenses.
Party leaders say expenses for bananas were filed in error
In response to the allegations, Sandra Hess, President of the FDP in Bern, told 20 Minuten that “it is true that two rolls and a banana were billed to [Philippe Müller’s] expense account in August 2018 and March 2019”, but the “three entries were made in error. But legally they were correct.”
“Since then there have been no more settlements. Contrary to the portrayal from Kassensturz, Mr Müller pays his small expenses himself," Hess continued - indeed, Müller has not used his expenses in the last five years. The heads of the SVP and SP in the canton also told 20 Minuten that they stand by the councillors accused.
Reto Wüthrich, communications advisor to the Bernese government, said that “the criticism of Minister Philippe Müller regarding small expenses is wrong and unjustified” as SRF had only managed to find a few cases in 300 pages of expense reports. He concluded that the charges must have been made in error as “neither Philippe Müller nor any other member of the government would think of charging a banana or a roll as an expense.”