Freedom of information specialist Vleugels: “Screening must be under the control of Parliament”

POSTED: 12/9/14 11:27 AM

St. Maarten – Media reports about candidate-ministers that “failed the screening” appear to be mere speculation. At best, the reports are based on hearsay and at worst, they are based on leaks from interested parties with a political agenda. So far, no candidate has been told that she or he cannot become a member of the next cabinet.

The screening ordered by the Kingdom Council of Ministers brought on the involvement of the Dutch secret service, the AIVD. How this organization works, nobody knows. Today found an interview with attorney Roger Vleugels, a freedom of information specialist and editor of the Fringe journals in the Netherlands from 2007, when the screening of a new team of ministers in the Netherlands was underway.

The interview heavily criticizes the way the screening works and Vleugels has called for fundamental changes to the process.

“The screening for ministers is different from an investigation for positions of trust. It is a reference research whereby the AIVD limits itself to the material it possesses and to material of a number of other government bureaus. They will look at political antecedents, whether your payments to the tax inspectorate are in order, whether you have debts and whether you have a criminal record. In particular the AIVD checks whether you are vulnerable to blackmail which could be a disadvantage for a position as minister or state secretary.”

Vleugels emphasizes – and this is interesting for the process that is underway in St. Maarten – that the result of the AIVD screening is completely secret. “There has never been a formateur who has says anything about it. It is therefore also completely unknown whether the AIVD has ever given a negative advice. It is also unknown whether the formateur has adopted or not adopted such an advice.”

The question is of course why the AIVD-screening is so secretive. “It is inherent to the way the AIVD conducts a screening investigation,” Vleugels said. “The AIVD has a secret way of operating, it uses secret sources and it does not want to reveal its methods because of a reference-research of a candidate-minister.”

Vleugels has two objections to the way the AIVD conducts the screening investigations and says that, in his opinion, things have to be done fundamentally different. “The screening has to be done by an organization with very good political antennas. Throughout the decades, the AIVD has shown that it is not such an organization. That is my first argument against them. Secondly, the screening must be done by an entity that is under the control of the parliament. After all, that is the body that is going to appoint the ministers. The parliament must therefore receive a complete report, but since the Second World War, the Parliament has not received a single answer from the AIVD about what it found during a screening.”

Vleugels says that this is rather odd. “This opens the door to an AIVD that co-creates a cabinet. I am not saying that this has already happened, but nobody is able to check it.”

Vleugels then explains how the secret service could play a role in the creation of a new government. “Suppose the AIVD says after one of these reference researches: don’t take that candidate. It is not known whether they ever said something like that, but on which grounds would it then advise not to take on a certain candidate? And it is furthermore unknown whether the formateur has gone along with such an advice.”

In that latter case, when the formateur adopts such an AIVD-advice, “a government agency has influenced the makeup of the Council of Ministers. That is of course impossible.”

What are the alternatives? Vleugels: “There has been a proposal for public hearings in the Parliament to grill the candidate-ministers. I had to laugh a bit when I heard that. It seemed to be a stage-act to me. There is no situation whereby you conduct job interviews in public, whereby you’re going to speak about your background in public. There is also something like privacy.”

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