Opinion: One-way ticket

POSTED: 03/16/15 1:10 PM

So this is how things work in Dutch politics: a minister (Ivo Opstelten) gives the parliament incorrect information and after some toing and froing he steps down. His State Secretary Fred Teeven, who was up to his eyeballs in the deal about which Opstelten gave incorrect information, also left office.

Did these politicians commit a crime? Is there an irrevocable criminal conviction?

No. None of that.

And what was it all about? An issue that played fifteen years ago, when Teeven was a public prosecutor. He made a deal with a drugs criminal about the assets justice had confiscated from the man. Because there was no evidence that all assets (€500 million – around $550 million) stemmed from criminal activities, justice decided to return some of that money. How much?

Teeven managed to take 750,000 away from the criminal, but how much money was returned to him remained unclear. First Minister Opstelten told the parliament that it was €1.25 million. Then a TV-station reported that it was actually €4.7 million. Then Opstelten retracted his statement about the €1.25 million. Then he claimed that he could not find any evidence about the payment. Then it turned out that there was electronic proof after all.

Enfin, the parliament demanded a debate to call the minister and his state secretary to account. That debate took place yesterday. But the day before yesterday, Opstelten and Teeven threw in the towel – and that took the sting out of the debate because the parliament could no longer demand that the two politicians step down.

It is not difficult to see the difference in political culture between The Hague and Philipsburg. We have seen a Member of Parliament with a conviction for bribery (Louie Laveist) who happily stayed in his seat. Not a single Member of Parliament demanded that he step down.

Then, of course, we have the current MP Silvio Matser who has a conviction for large-scale tax-evasion to his name, He is still in parliament and does not even think about giving up his seat.

The third one of this lot is Maria Buncamper-Molanus – currently a suspect of forgery, tax fraud and membership of a criminal organization. It is of course true that the number 8 vote getter on the UP-list is not in parliament, but if anything happens to any of the seven current UP-MPs she would move into that seat in a heartbeat – and nobody would even argue.

Matser could say that his conviction is not irrevocable – he is in appeal. Buncamper-Molanus could argue that she has not even been to trial yet.

What kind of example are these people giving to the citizenry and especially to young people? That it is okay to be a suspect of a variety of crimes and still hang on to your position as a representative of the people?

The VVD – the party of Opstelten and Teeven – is in dire straits in the Netherlands. One scandal after the other hits the headlines. And yes, one could argue that Mark Rutte’s party consists of a bunch of goons, but one cannot say that the party leadership is not doing anything about it, embarrassing as it may be.

Is that then the big difference between The Hague and Philipsburg? Or is there more to it. We have to see these matters in their local context. If a minister steps down, he can be replaced – that goes for The Hague and for Philipsburg. But if a party kicks out a faction member for inappropriate behavior and he goes independent, the picture changes dramatically. In The Hague, the ruling majority could become a bit slimmer; in Philipsburg, the government will most likely fall.

As long as wayward politicians do not have the decency to take the consequences for their behavior – and take a one-way ticket to the nearest exit – instability will rule in local politics at the expense of the people this band of fifteen is supposed to serve.

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