Thesis about fraud and corruption in the Netherlands: “No major interest in fighting corruption”POSTED: 10/6/15 9:54 PM
St. Maarten /By Hilbert Haar – “Dutch citizens consider themselves as the inhabitants of the least corrupt country in the world, while the many scandals show that this impression is not consistent with reality,” Jacqueline Bos writes in her doctoral thesis ‘Corruption in the Netherlands and Germany: Incidental or Embedded?’
Bos graduated at the Open University in Maastricht on Friday. Her thesis reads like a John Grisham novel and makes clear that the Netherlands is anything but free from corruption. On the contrary: whistleblowers are systematically destroyed and politicians are reluctant to introduce legislation to protect these people.
The thesis refers several times to the construction fraud scandal that came to light in 2001, when Ad Bos (not related to the 62-year-old doctoral student), the Mother of all whistleblowers in the Netherlands made public the shadow bookkeeping of construction company Koop Tjuchem. Ad Bos, who currently lives in St. Maarten, could not find a job anymore in the construction sector and he had to “eat” his house to survive.
Jacqueline Bos notes in her thesis that Prime Minister Peter Jan Balkenende reacted negatively in 2004 to a request for financial compensation for the whistleblower. In 2009 Ad Bos received compensation after all, but he had to litigate eight years for it. “A frightening perspective for whistleblowers.”
The interpretation of corruption differs per period, Bos writes in her thesis. “Self-perception has been shaped to such an extent by Weberian ideals that the combat against it can hardly be effective. The scandals make clear how ad hoc the fight against corruption in the Netherlands is, and has been in the past.”
(Weber was a German sociologist who believed that civil servants are faithful and objective).
Bos writes that it is not possible to prevent corruption with new legislation. What it needs is “an open political debate about ‘how to behave’ so that politicians can get to know which behavior citizens find acceptable and which they find unacceptable.”
Bos looked at the role of the judicial in the fight against corruption in the Netherlands and Germany and found “a lot of legal impotence.” She furthermore notes that many cases of corruption are dealt with through civil labor and administrative bodies, “because it is seldom possible to get the necessary evidence for a criminal conviction.”
Bos has a solution for this: in her thesis she pleads for a reversal of the burden of proof that would charge civil servants with the task to show where their material gains are coming from.
The attempts of the government to keep a good level of integrity in public administration are rather disappointing, Bos writes. “Legislation is often very soft and on all levels hard rules and concrete sanctions are shunned. With fashionable terms like good governance a lot is left to self-regulating, whereby the definition of ‘good governance’ is kept intentionally elastic.”
Making the financiers of political parties public is still a sensitive subject in the Netherlands, reportedly because of rumors about the security of the parties that fund Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV).
Bos says there is a ‘dark number’ in the magnitude of corruption in the Netherlands. Cases that become public are “the top of the proverbial iceberg’ and to break through this dark field requires whistleblowers like Paul van Buitenen and Ad Bos.
These whistleblowers let their moral convictions outweigh their own economic advantage. “They are a vulnerable group (….) and their protection is part of an integral anti-corruption policy. That they do not enjoy special protection, fits within the Dutch perception about the lack of structural domestic corruption.”
Bos notes that the role of the media is crucial: “Without public outrage about corruption, the problem will not quickly emerge on the political agenda.”
There is no effective fight against the phenomenon of corruption in the Netherlands, Bos writes, in spite of international and national pressure to bring about change. “This is based on the illusion of the absence of structural corruption. The notion that the Netherlands and Germany are relatively free of corruption is not only incorrect, but it is also harmful to the society.”
The thesis is extremely critical of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. The Netherlands, and neighboring Germany always have a reasonable score. “The reactions in the media are each year the same; satisfied their report that there was little corruption in their own country. Corruption, they assume, is something of Mediterranean countries (or Caribbean ones – ed.), something of dictators in developing countries. What the media forget is that a lot of the information Transparency International gathers is based on perception. This makes the index a self-fulfilling prophecy: we are not listed as corrupt because we do not consider ourselves corrupt.”
Bos points out that corruption is not part of the growing pains of instable democracies and economies in the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe or the third world.”
Based on her own research, and the work of other authors, Bos arrives at a harsh conclusion: “The Netherlands and Germany actually seem to have a lot of corruption. Economically, legally, in terms of policy and culturally they are hardly prepared to resist corruption and tainted power.”
Bos even speaks of “a culture of self-satisfaction” that needs to be broken before the country is really able to deal with corruption.
The thesis notes that most corruption cases never see the light of day. “That is no reason to assume that it is not endemic in the Netherlands and Germany. Corruption surfaces in every country in a different way. In particular those with a large income at the top are causing serious damages. Several scientists have established that corruption is everywhere, or that at least everywhere the conditions exist for the corruption of power in public administration.”
- Bouman, who published two books about corruption in the Netherlands was amazed about the numbers, without revealing them, Bos writes. “What surprised him the most, more than the resistance and incomprehension his books brought about, was the silence with which politicians treated it.”
Bouman was even more amazed about the political silence because he established how the minister and the parliament remained silent when the Academic Council, at odds with the law, had not submitted a report that was very important for the Dutch population, how accountants at the Ministry of Education and Science were forced to falsify their reports, and how the General Audit Chamber failed to meet its obligations.
Bos refers to research by Hoetjes, who found that between 1965 and 1989 the number of corruption cases that went to court every year was between 16.3 and 19.3. The number of cases that was dismissed varied between 51 and 70 percent.
Between 1994 and 2003, the Public Prosecutors Office registered 709 facts about corruption in the civil service.
The General Audit Chamber tackled corruption in the mind-nineties with a research at ministries. The Chamber found that between 1990 and 1995 there were 143 cases of ‘concrete suspicions of fraud and corruption.’ It furthermore appeared just five ministries registered suspicions of integrity breaches in the personnel files at a central level.
At some ministries there were no suspicions of fraud and corruption. This was remarkable, Bos notes, especially for the Ministry of Defense that has a Bureau Special Assignments for the protection of the integrity of its civil servants.
At ministries were suspicions did surface, 90 cases ended with punishments: 50 times unconditional dismissal, 8 times conditional dismissal, 17 times a fine, demotion of salary cuts, 8 times a reprimand and 7 times a transfer.
Later research from the Free University in Amsterdam claimed that per year there are around 100 cases of corruption at Dutch municipalities. Investigations into fraud and corruption involved in 90 percent of the cases civil servants, and in the remaining 10 percent politicians.
Here is a remarkable trend: in 1999 police or justice were called in in 50 percent of the cases; in 2003, this percentage had dropped to 30 percent.
In 1992 the late Ien Dales, at the time Minister of Home Affairs, held a speech entitled For the Integrity of Public Administration in which she criticized the morality of politicians and civil servants. The speech put integrity on the agenda, but it did not result in significant changes.
The number of corruption cases remains around 100 per year. The Public Prosecutor’s office says that per year between 15 and to 20 cases go to court. “This is an alarming fact,” Bos writes. “What happened with the 80 to 85 other cases? Where they shoved under the carpet or were they not worth criminal prosecution?”
Bos furthermore notes that the number of corruption cases in 1995 was twice that of previous years. “When this statistic was reported to the Second chamber, it came without an explanation. No member of parliament asked about it. This shows that there is no major interest in fighting corruption within the government.”
In 2005, the Second Chamber debated the prevalence of corruption. Prime Minister Peter Jan Balkenende said that corruption in the Netherlands was “exceptional” while the parliament thought that the phenomenon was underestimated.
Bos thesis runs 332 pages. It contains countless examples of corruption in the Netherlands. A supplement contains an essay about the construction fraud that had the author’s namesake Ad Bos at its center. It is aptly entitled: ‘Justice and injustice in a nutshell: the construction fraud as an example of how it should not be done.’
Corruptie in Nederland en Duitsland: Incidenteel of ingebed? Jacqueline Bos, 332 pages; language: Dutch with summary in English. Publisher: Eberon, delft (firstname.lastname@example.org).