Opinion: How not to handle corruption

POSTED: 12/11/13 6:49 PM

Meindert Fennema, a columnist for the Volkskrant has a pretty good idea about how not to handle corruption – or even suspicions about corruption. Not behind closed doors, Fennema argued and he did it like this:

“Murk Schaafsma (1883-1955) was at the beginning of last century assistant at the postal services in Leeuwarden. That was a pay grade above a mail man, but it cannot have been that high up the ladder either, because he became a member of the SDAP, the predecessor of the Labor Party PvdA. Murk had ambition and talent, he made a career in the postal services and  became a member of the municipal council. He did not stop there, because in 1919 he became an alderman. The enterprising alderman traveled a lot to Germany. Whether this was in the context of international solidarity we do not know, but we do know that his claims for hotel bills from Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt have been preserved.

Some of these bills were over 300 guilders. In today’s money, that is almost $2,200. Compared to the business trips of former Rotterdam mayor Bram Peter that is still reasonable, but in Leeuwarden they were not used to that kind of spending at the time. “The municipal bookkeepers got red ears from it,” Jaap Hellinga wrote in the Leeuwarder Courant of May 18, 1921.

The curtains came down for Schaafsma in 1921, when it appeared that he had bought as a private citizen a polder that subsequently became the garbage dump for Leeuwarden. Nothing new under the sun one would say, thinking about ton Hooijmaijers, the VVD-prominent who was just sentenced to 3 years in jail for corruption.

The Schaafsma-case was handled by mayor Beyma in a secret meeting of the municipal council and it would never have become public if not one of the council members had showed the secret minutes of the meeting to the Leeuwarder Courant. The mayor demanded from all 25 council members a statement that they had not leaked the information to the newspaper. The liberal member De Vos refused, and that angered the mayor.

De Vos did not return in the council two years later. It is now unthinkable that such a case would make the head roll of the whistleblower, though there are enough examples showing that the political heirs of a man like De Vos still encounter obstructions in their political careers. But as obvious as this was done in 1921 is no longer possible.

The most recent among travel-eager alderman is a former alderman of The Hague, Wilbert Stolte. NRC Handelsblad reported extensively about his trips to Bonaire, where he spends considerably more than his predecessor Murk Schaafsma did in Germany. But Wilbert Stolte fell in the end as well: he did not stumble over a garbage dump, but over a penthouse. Initially he rented it from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations but later he bought it together with his pal Hans Hillen. The latter gets paid handsomely in Bonaire for his lobby-activities in The Hague for the Executive Council. This way he gets paid twice. Once as a member of the senate to take decisions, and once as advisor for Bonaire to take the correct decisions.

Stolte and Hillen are called “knabbel en babble” in Bonaire. They bought the penthouse in 2007 from a friend in Bonaire, Ed de Vuijst, who himself has been renting a small cottage near the sea from the Executive Council of Bonaire – for $80 a month. De Vuijst leases this ‘unique Caribbean style house with private beach’ to tourists for $2,700 per week. Every now and then he deposits some of this money in the election account of the governing Union Patriotiko Boneriano to make sure that his landlord stays in power. CDA-politicians love to use Hillen and Stolte’s penthouse – for free. The CDA-leader was there during the last New Year.

Stolte claimed in 2006 a number of days when he worked in his penthouse and in The Hague. He had to correct his claims on other points as well. He traveled 17 times to Bonaire for work for a committee, while the member of this committee from Curacao had enough with one trip.

Stolte is now stepping down ‘at his own request’ in May of next year as the Dutch
Representative, there years earlier than planned. Minister Plasterk remains silent. He “does not doubt Stolte’s integrity. It seems as if Plasterk, just like the mayor of Leeuwarden all those decades ago, prefers to handle the affair behind closed doors, but that is no longer possible in an era where the media take their controlling task much more serious than in Schaafsma’s time.

Was it not Plasterk who stated in the Volkskrant that citizens must be convinced again that the profession of a politician is an honorable profession? Plasterk’s cloak of charity does not contribute to this.”

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