Opinion: Election-winner: integrity

POSTED: 01/2/14 1:00 AM

Integrity seems to be the buss words for politicians that want to get ahead. Meul is Kaptein, a retired professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and a partner in KPMG Integrity, is the author of a book entitled Servants of the People – About the Power of Integrity. In the Dutch daily Trouw he notes that the local party that takes integrity as its election slogan could come out on top. Municipal elections in the Netherlands will take place on March 19.

This is Muel is Kaptein’s take on these elections – an opinion politicians in St. Maarten ought to take to heart. “More than ever the upcoming municipal elections will be about integrity of the candidates, the party and the election program. Those who ignore this, lose votes; those who acknowledge this, will win them.

Even though it will take another three months before the municipal elections take place, the first incidents have already occurred.

It started back in September with the placing of Jos van Rey on the candidate list for the municipal council of Roermond whereby the discussion erupted whether someone who is involved in a criminal investigation can be a candidate.”

That is something Patrick Illidge will have to ask himself when the elections in St. Maarten roll around.

Muel is Kaptein furthermore referred to a row that erupted when PvdA-candidate Seyit Yeyden was placed on the draft list for a borough of Rotterdam while he had stepped down in the summer after a report about nepotism and political intimidation. In December four members of the PvdA in Amersfoort stepped down because of theft from the party treasury by a faction member whom they had insufficiently supervised.

“They are not the only ones that became controversial due to an alleged lack of integrity. Research I did together with professor Leo Huberts shows that during the past ten years 175 politicians became the talk of the town; among them are many local politicians. An alderman from Etten-Leur had to leave because of wrongful expenditure-claims, a member of the municipal council in Someren was caught doing paid work as an independent contractor for his municipality, the integrity of two aldermen in Westland became a topic of discussion because of conflicts of interest, an alderman in Gouda files a complaints against a member of the municipal council for the theft of his iPad and information folder, and the chairman of a borough in Rotterdam stepped down after a conflict about his high study-expenses.

These incidents indicate that integrity will play a central role during the municipal elections, more than ever before. There are five reasons for this.

First of all the politicians that got caught up in controversy have fed the distrust of citizens in politics, causing them to pay more attention to the integrity of the candidates of their party. Because integrity is in the spotlights everywhere right now, every local slip quickly becomes national news. That feeds the mistrust of citizens even further.

The integrity requirements for politicians have increased during the past couple of years. Previously a politician was someone who could do a lot for his voters, now this is called a conflict of interest and unacceptable. Even the appearance of non-integer behavior is sometimes already fatal.

Another reason is that transparency has never been on such high levels. Slips become visible quicker. A politician that makes a wrong remark behind closed doors could circulate on the internet via a hostile smart phone in minutes. The mayor of Maastricht understands this, after he was caught kissing on camera in the lobby of a hotel.

A fourth reason is that national party boards are showing restraint in taking care of the integrity in local departments. Local integrity is primary the responsibility of the local party is the prevailing thought. But a political party is more than the total of local parties and for this reason a local party could affect the whole organization. The party board therefore cannot afford to stay on the sidelines. But as long as they stay there, local incidents will keep happening.

A final reason is that election campaigns have become tougher during the past decades. Under the pressure of the election battle lurks the temptation to make false of improper promises, to accept large gifts and to treat other parties unfairly.

Seen from this perspective, the municipal elections will become a dicey battle with lots of incidents. Those who want to emerge good from this must let integrity speak from the person, the party and the program.

Parties will only be able to emerge in one piece from the elections if they safeguard and promote integrity by interviewing candidates about their integrity before adding them to their list, by checking the curricula of candidates themselves, by having candidates declare that they do not have an incriminating past and by having them forego conflicting interests. Parties should also have a code of conduct for their politicians, have them sign these codes, and oblige them to follow formation and training in this field. This last thing should preferable happen before the elections.

Local victory also depends on the national party. If their politicians on the national level slip up, this will reflect on the local branches of a party.

Lastly the election result will be positively influenced by the way the party program promotes integer municipal politics, an integer local administration and an integer society. The local party that takes integrity as its election slogan could very well end up with the best result.”


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