Government spending is always topical. For every liberal decrying the paltry money begrudgingly dripped into the welfare state, there’s a libertarian begging for it to be reduced further. For every spectacularly wasteful government project, there’s some piece of essential infrastructure that benefits millions. Getting it right is tricky.
Or, as in the cases below, you could simply not even try. These projects were so pointless and so wasteful, it feels like their only real purpose was to shove a gigantic middle finger into the face of the taxpayer.
10. Dubai is Equipping its Firefighters with Jetpacks
We’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that if everyone reading this was head of a multibillion dollar petro-economy, the first thing they’d buy is a fleet of jetpacks. Well, we’ve got some great news. With that attitude, there might be a job in Dubai’s government for you.
The Gulf State claims it has been working on the idea of giving its workers jetpacks since 1981. Only recently has technology caught up with that impressively wacky dream. Starting in 2016, the city’s firefighters will be equipped with jetpacks capable of flying up to 3,000 feet, at 46 mph, for roughly 30 minutes.
The idea is that these jetpacks might save lives in case of an apocalyptic skyscraper fire. With people trapped on the roof, the firemen could simply fly up, sweep them into a fireman’s lift and, um, hopefully not drop them on the way down. Like most of Dubai’s civic plans – like the time they equipped policemen with Lamborghini Aventadors – it’s both wonderfully impractical and damn impressive. If you come back next year and this site is up for sale, it’s because we’ve all high-tailed it to Dubai to train as firefighters.
9. A Kenyan Ministry Bought Sex Toys on Expenses
Given an expenses budget and a lack of oversight, many of us would probably take advantage. A crate of champagne here, a foreign holiday there… the TopTenz expenses account really knows no limits. But there’s taking advantage and there’s really taking advantage. In November of 2015, the Kenyan taxpayer got to experience that pain when a government ministry was accused of buying sex toys on expenses.
In a routine sweep by the parliament’s public accounts committee (PAC), Kenya’s Ministry for Devolution was found to have been engaging in all sorts of shady deals. Those involved were suspected of buying stuff like TVs at inflated prices, then pocketing the difference. But the real kick in the teeth came when it was discovered sex toys may have been charged to the public. Although the case is still being investigated, we’ve got to hand it to any non-prostitute with the cajones to charge the public for their erotic playtime. Talk about finding a new way to, ahem, screw the taxpayer.
8. Italy Blew 2 Million on an Elevator to Nowhere
Italy has major problems with both government corruption and mafia kickbacks. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the country is regularly accused to urinating EU money down the drain. Sometimes, though, this wastefulness goes beyond simple corruption and into hilarious insanity. Like that time the municipality of Sutera in Sicily spent €2 million on an elevator to nowhere.
A tiny-ass town, Sutera has been struggling financially for decades. A few years ago, the government decided to boost tourism by building an ugly elevator from the town to the ancient monastery at the top of the Mountain of of Sao Paolino. After years of false starts and wasted cash, the lift was finally completed in 2012. The local council then refused to operate it, saying it was basically too-damn expensive.
So what happened to the money? As far as anyone can tell, it went into the pockets of the Sicilian mafia. It wouldn’t be the first time. A few years ago, Italy was forced to repay the EU £307 million after it was discovered money for road repairs was going exclusively to keeping real-life Don Corleone in his retirement.
7. Hong Kong Spends Millions on Feng Shui
If the words ‘feng shui’ make you think of artsy-fartsy types spending thousands of dollars to have their furniture rearranged, prepare to be surprised. The practice is taken very seriously in Hong Kong, where buildings are constructed specifically to allow qi (AKA ‘life force’) to flow through them. In fact, it’s taken so seriously that the government spends millions of dollars every year to compensate for screwing it up.
Every time a construction project ends, Hong Kong residents can apply for compensation if they think it damaged their qi. Given how small the island is and how many people live there, this happens with unsurprising frequency. In the years leading up to 2010 alone, the government had to spend the equivalent of £6million for messing up citizens’ qi.
We should point out at this point that feng shui has absolutely zero basis in science, and isn’t even believed in by everyone in Hong Kong. Understandably, this has made locals suspicious that the compensation is merely a scam to line the pockets of landlords and feng shui masters.
6. The US Spent $6m Making a Pakistani Sesame Street
This may come as a shock, but growing up as a poor kid in rural Pakistan is a heck of a lot different from growing up poor in New York City. That might be the idea behind a plan some years ago to create a Pakistani version of Sesame Street. Fair enough, you might think. The show is the property of the Jim Henson Company, and they can license it out to whoever they feel like. Only the creative force behind this version wasn’t some Pakistani TV company. It was the US government.
Known as Sim Sim Hamara, the program was a US attempt to exercise ‘soft power’ in Pakistan, presumably in the hope that jihadists would rather stay in and watch Oscar the Grouch than blow themselves up. Originally, over $20m of US taxpayers’ money was meant to fund the program, but the contract was canceled after only $6m had been spent due to evidence of corruption.
This isn’t the only time the US screwed up producing different Sesame Streets. In 2012 the Palestinian version had to get shut down after Congress froze all aid to the region, following Palestine’s bid to join the UN.
5. A Swedish Town Spent Millions Getting Itself Onto Second Life
You probably remember Second Life. The online world launched in 2003 and was meant to be the best thing since virtual sliced bread. Companies paid for space there. Universities held lectures in its hallowed halls. Heck, even The Office did an episode devoted to it.
Then at some point, the dream died. In 2014, Business Insider claimed it had long ago “devolved into a post-apocalyptic virtual world” mainly used for sex parties. Apparently not everyone saw that as a downside. Only a couple of years before, the Swedish town of Malmo spent millions in government money creating an exact replica of itself inside Second Life.
The idea was that ordinary Swedes could log onto their IKEA-purchased laptops and drive a virtual Volvo full of stereotypes to the Second Life version of their town hall, where they could talk to officials. In reality, barely anyone used the service. One report claimed the grand ‘closing down’ party in 2012 was attended by a maximum of six people. And three of them were probably only there in case a sex party kicked off.
4. Haiti Spent Earthquake Money on Sick 4x4s
An extremely-poor, extremely earthquake-prone country, Haiti has long been a disaster waiting to happen. In 1998, researchers said it was due an apocalyptic tremor. In 2009, local geologist Claude Prepetit begged the government to put aside money to earthquake-proof the buildings in Port au Prince. The Haitian government politely listened, then promptly blew that money on awesome four-wheel-drive Nissan Patrols for government officials.
Unlike most on this list, their actions had real, tragic consequences. The capital Port au Prince was a badly-built nightmare of teetering walls and unstable foundations. A gust of breeze could probably have brought the whole lot tumbling down, never mind an earthquake. Then, in January of 2010, a 7.0 magnitude quake hit the island nation. Port au Prince collapsed, killing 160,000. We can only hope it took out some of those Nissan Patrols, too.
3. A UK Minister Charged Taxpayers to Have His Moat Cleaned
When British politicians go corrupt, they apparently do it in the poshest way possible. In 2009, the Telegraph uncovered a string of illegal expenses claims MPs had charged to the taxpayer. Most of these amounted to getting the government to pay their mortgage or pay for a new, luxury car. Reprehensible as that is, it has nothing on the gall of Conservative MP Douglas Hogg. At one point, he charged the taxpayer £2,115 to have his moat cleaned.
If that doesn’t sound like much, bear in mind that the man literally owns a moat. He can probably afford to clean his own castle. Hell, he probably has so much money that the rich ones in Downton Abbey doff their caps when they pass him and he hires the Queen to polish his shoes.
This wasn’t the only utterly absurd claim the Telegraph uncovered. Sir Peter Viggers spent an astonishing £1,645 on a house for his ducks.
2. The State Department Spent Over $600,000 on Facebook Likes
We’ve all done it before. We’ve all posted something on Facebook, then watched in disappointment (and mounting anger) as our snarky comment about Donald Trump’s hair doesn’t get nearly as many likes as we hoped. But most of us aren’t sad enough to pay someone to like our updates for us. Most of us aren’t the US State Department.
In 2013, it was revealed the State Department had spent over half a million dollars on Facebook likes to boost its fan numbers. This means that, if you’re reading this in America, the Federal government personally stole two dollars off you and everyone you know, just to make themselves look good on social media.
Admittedly, their tactic worked. In the time the program ran, it increased State Department Facebook fans from 100,000 to over two million. But this can only be considered a success if you think it’s somehow conducive to American interests to have a well-subscribed Facebook page. Because, from where we’re sitting, it looks like a total waste of everybody’s money.
1. Brunei Spends Billions on the Craziest Crap You Could Possibly Imagine
A tiny, southeast Asian petro-state, Brunei is mainly famous for being boring and for recently announcing it was under Sharia law. It deserves to be famous for something else entirely. It spends its money so lavishly and pointlessly it would put even Silvio Berlusconi to shame.
Unlike others on our list, Brunei is a sultanate. That means everything is in the hands of one crazy dictator, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his brother Prince Jefri. Together, they’ve blown the equivalent to the entire GDP of many smaller nations in the pursuit of hedonism.
The sultan’s palace alone has 1,788 rooms, including five swimming pools and a mosque. Together with his brother he owns 9,000 cars (including two custom-made Mercedes Benz firetrucks), a personal zoo, 17 planes, hundreds of thousands of expensive suits, 16,000 tons of marble stacked in a warehouse, gold-plated toilet brushes, and a 12-foot tall rocking horse.
Prince Jefri is even worse. Aside from all the stuff above, he also owns a mega-yacht named “Tits”, a haram of underage girls, and four life-size statues of himself having sex. Oh, and when the Sultan’s 50th birthday rolled round, he built a brand new stadium and paid Michael Jackson $17 million to play it, because of course he did.