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Sunday, 9 December 2012

PvdA politician also stepped in the trap of fraudulent behavior: state secretary Co Verdaas resigns just after four weeks, when questionable declarations from his last job come to surface.

Readers, who follow my blog on a regular basis, know that my symphaty lies with the social-democrat movement in The Netherlands. I never made a secret of it. I also don’t hide that I’m not a big fan of the Dutch liberal-conservative party VVD .

This entrepreneurs party chooses too one-sidedly for the rich and entrepreneurial citizens in The Netherlands, while often treating people with poorly paid jobs or without any job at all with disdain. Slogans like ‘everybody is responsible for his own success’ or ‘the government is not a happiness machine’ just don’t do it for me. 

This is also because the VVD is more than average responsible for the fact that many lower-class households are overloaded with debt these days. VVD ministers in governments of the last two decades have always been in favor of dimishing the social rental market in The Netherlands, in favor of occupant-owned housing

As a consequence, many people belonging to the lower-class of incomes have been lured into buying a house, that they couldn't afford in reality. Due to the dropping prices in the Dutch housing market, these people are now deeply underwater.

One should never forget that some people just didn’t get the right break in life. They had poor parents and never had the chance to start a university study. They are mostly destined to stay within the working class that they came from. 

Numerous scientific investigations have shown that people very seldomly outgrow their class. One of the oldest proverbs in The Netherlands is: a dime seldomly becomes a quarter. 

Where the conservatives often point at the few successful entrepreneurs of poor descent that made a million or more ('the Dutch version of the American dream'), this dream remains a fairytale for most poorly educated people with a poorly paid job.  

This is not a reason for me to pamper these people beyond belief and suffocate them with hugs and kisses.  This is, however, a reason to warrant these people a decent income when they have a simple job or receive a welfare payment. It is also a reason to give these people some extra chances to step on the right train again.

This side of life has always been represented better by the PvdA, the Dutch labor party.

There is one thing, however, that I don’t like at all and that I can’t stand from ANY party. That is corruption, fraud and sponging from society by people’s representatives in national and local government bodies. 

Everybody can make a stupid mistake every once in a while; heck, did I make mistakes myself. However, there is a big difference between making a (big) mistake once and cheating consequently. During the last weeks I gave more than average attention to the VVD, due to the fact that some of its representatives were involved in objectionable behavior, that politicians should stay far from.

This time I want to shed some light on objectionable behavior of PvdA representative and former freshman-state secretary Co Verdaas. This Thursday, 6 December 2012, he resigned 'voluntarily' after just four weeks as state secretary of Economic Affairs, being tackled by an unsolved affair concerning false declarations in his job as delegate for the province Gelderland. Verdaas felt that he couldn't keep his position after this affair became national news.

If the facts are indeed correct ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, Verdaas has lied upon his real home address and has - next to other questionable behavior - declared dozens of false bills for commuter-traffic travel expenses.

The Dutch newspaper Volkskrant ( printed an in depth-article on this affair on the 24th of November. This article has probably been the spark that ignited the case within parliament. I print here the applicable snippets from this article (italic), combined with some explanations on my behalf.

Critical politicians from Gelderland keep following PvdA state secretary Co Verdaas closely: as a delegate for Gelderland he kept candidly living outside the province and the tax-payer footed the bill for the many drives to and from Zwolle in the province of Overijssel.

When a delegate is appointed in one province, but actually lives in another province, he is obliged by provincial regulation to move to the province where he is appointed. Officially Verdaas met this demand: he moved to Nijmegen (Gelderland) in 2008, less than a year after his appointment as delegate for Gelderland in 2007. It seems, however, that Co Verdaas had only moved there on paper. 

Different people found out that Verdaas had remained living in Zwolle, the capital of the province Overijssel, until his appointment as state secretary in the secretary in the VVD-PvdA Cabinet Rutte II in November, 2012:

A politician from the provincial council of Gelderland, Toine van Bergen, accidentally encountered Verdaas in Zwolle, clearly not far from his home (Verdaas rode on a carrier cycle). The nervous reaction of Verdaas made Van Bergen suspicious, so afterwards he checked the home address of Verdaas and saw on an administrative list that this was still in Zwolle, Overijssel. 

Since then Van Bergen asked the province for an official explanation on many occasions, without receiving a proper answer and remained doing so even after Verdaas became state secretary.

Van Bergen stated: ‘We are now years ahead and Verdaas has now landed between the hot shots in The Hague. I still don’t have an answer to the question why the rules that we impose on Dutch citizens, don’t seem to apply on Co Verdaas’.

Outside Gelderland few people know this affair, that circles around two topics: the true residence of Verdaas and - combinedly - his declaration of travel expenses and drives with the service car of the province Gelderland.  

Although the province itself considers the affair a done deal, this should not be the case. His declared travel expenses and the hundreds of drives that he made with the provincial Lexus and BMW with driver just evoked too many questions with the opposition in Gelderland.

A PVV-politician (Party for Freedom), called Marjolein Faber, has done some investigative work after she heard from this possible affair.

Faber received access to the trip-administration of the provincial official cars and came to the conclusion, after some thorough research, that Co Verdaas had been picked up from Zwolle 382 times and had been brought back to Zwolle 352 times within three years. This was surprising, as the Gelderland code of conduct for delegates described that the executive committee can decide that ‘the provincial official car might be used for commuter traffic in extraordinary cases’.

Faber: ‘two things are not right. When you officially live in Nijmegen, then the drives to Zwolle are not commuter-traffic officially. And when you are brought and picked up on hundreds of occasions in three years, then this cannot be called extraordinary cases, like the provincial code of conduct states. Then you just have a car with a driver’.

And there is more. If you put the car-trips, collected by Faber, next to the travel expense declarations of Verdaas, you will notice something else. The PvdA-representative declared travel expenses between Nijmegen and Arnhem on dozens of occasions that can hardly be explained.

Wednesday, april 6 2011: declaration commuter traffic expenses from Nijmegen to Arnhem v.v.

Thursday, april 7 2011: picked up at 9.30 and brought back to Zwolle with service-car at 23.00 hrs (11.00 pm).

Friday, april 8 2011: declaration commuter traffic expenses from Nijmegen to Arnhem v.v.

Faber encountered dozens of other strange declarations like this. ‘A person cannot be in two places at the same time’’, according to Faber. ‘How can it be that Verdaas is dropped off in Zwolle, but leaves from Nijmegen the next morning. There can be a valid explanation for it, but I just don’t see it.’

Co Verdaas’ unnecessary rides to Zwolle with the official car with driver cost the province Gelderland €30,000 extra. The province has also compensated Verdaas for extra tax assessments he received: the Dutch Internal Revenue Service saw his regular use of Gelderland's official cars as a hidden source of income and imposed taxes on it. On top of that there are the dozens of apparently false declarations of commuter traffic between Arnhem and Nijmegen.

Inquiring minds who want to know the distance between Zwolle and Nijmegen: this is 95 km or 58 miles. This is not extremely far, but not a distance that you easily drive in the middle of the night. It seems that Faber’s conclusions concerning the declarations of Verdaas are spot on.

In the remainder of the article (in Dutch) you can read that Verdaas bought a home in Nijmegen with a friend. In the land registry administration (i.e. Kadaster), Verdaas is registered as 50% rightful claimant on this house. However, in reality Verdaas is only owner for 1%, while his friend is owner for 99%. This was for Verdaas apparantly a cheap way to get a fake address in Gelderland.

It wasn’t more than an enlistment. Verdaas never declared moving expenses. Declarations for hotels and dinners were sent from his (home) address in Zwolle, except the declarations for Gelderland. Many invoices for his political journeys and overnight stays were sent to his address in Zwolle.

This whole article is a must-read and gives great insight in the almost clumsy way that ‘respectable’ politicians operate to cover up objectionable behavior.

People could argue that this is a very small affair, when compared to the affairs that VVD politicians Ton Hooijmaijers and Jos van Rey are involved in currently. That might be true, but many politicians are standing in line to name and shame people that commit welfare fraud for a couple of bucks. Politicians know extremely well what others should and shouldn’t do.

Especially these people, leading by example, should be spotless.

I am not the only person that is worried on the behavior of local government officials.

Today, the Dutch newspaper NRC printed an article that municipal councillors are worried about the integrity of community officials. Here are some snips:

Many municipal councillors of Dutch cities and communities are worried about executive integrity. Dozens of council members qualify the situation in their community as ‘moderate to poor’.

The Dutch national TV-broadcasting station NOS held the survey, due to integrity issues in the communities Roermond, Lansingerland and Lingewaard during 2012. Government officials in these communities have been suspected of having conflicting interests, poor declarational behavior or straightforward corruption. About 6000 council members have been inquired about the executive integrity. 437 of them responded.

Most council members state that the integrity demands are observed well in their community, but 10-15% of the respondents states that this is not the case. One council member states in the survey:“The notion of the importance of integrity is totalling non-existent in our community’.

56 council members thought that an investigation should be held in their community, concerning questions of integrity. These politicians have doubts about the declarational behavior of civil servants or they suspect conflicting interests among city officials. This is often about the approval of development plans.

Before people call this a shocking result, they should consider that less than 7% of the council members responded to this survey and of them less than 15% had their doubts about integrity in their community, about 0.8% of the 6000 council members that have been encountered in this survey.

In general you can state that people react to these kinds of surveys, if they have something on their mind. Other people often simply don’t bother to respond to these surveys.

Nevertheless, 0.8% of council members have apparently serious doubts about the integrity in their community. This is a significant number and – in my opinion- a good reason for a thorough investigation of executive integrity in The Netherlands. The Dutch taxpayer just expects this from his representatives.

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