Stepping down because of subsidy
2 July 2006 – Last year, district council member André
Bhola of the social-democrat PvdA party stepped down as chairman
of the Anand Joti Foundation, to avoid even the semblance of a conflict
of interests. Others are less rigorous. However, integrity is a
matter of discussion in many districts.
Bhola is a district council member, and by now chairman of the
council, in Zuidoost. The foundation that he headed has received
a one-time subsidy of five thousand euro from the district. Bhola
has stepped down as chairman of the foundation. He abstained from
the discussion and from voting on the decision to award the subsidy.
Incidentally, to avoid the semblance of a conflict of interests
was not the only reason to step down as chairman of the foundation.
“It was also about the workload. I have reached the age to
give young people a chance as well, and fortunately a good successor
was available”, says Bhola.
One might ask whether it was really necessary from a perspective
of integrity to step down. The PvdA party leader in Zuidoost, Lourens
Burgers, is in doubt: “That is a very difficult question”.
“We want council members with close ties to the population
and who are active in society, that is what we look for in the selection
procedure”, says Burgers. “But it is extremely important
to avoid even the semblance of a conflict of interests. You have
to be very watchful”.
The districts keep a public record of the functions of council
members and they have codes of conduct. As a general rule, these
codes state that council members must avoid the semblance of a conflict
of interests, but that it is pretty much their own responsibility
how they deal with such issues.
In practice, situations in which councils decide on issues in which
the interests of a council member are at stake are not very frequent,
it appears from information provided by a number of registries.
In Noord, the council has discussed places on the local market,
where one of the members also has a place. The member abstained
from the discussion and the vote on the issue.
In Oost, the council decided on a new use for the Frankendael House,
which is inhabited by the mother of a council member. Here as well,
the member abstained from the discussion and the vote.
The Zuidoost Registry reports that it happens ‘occasionally’:
“subsidy for an organisation in which a council member is
a board member or otherwise directly involved, commissioning an
organisation that employs a council member or in which a member
has a financial interest, even when it regards projects in the street
where a council member lives, they usually abstain from participating
in the decision making”.
In Centrum as well, it happens ‘sporadically’ that
council members abstain from voting. “This is the responsibility
of the council member and we do not keep a record of such incidents”,
says the registry.
In ZuiderAmstel, there has been a discussion about a council member
who was ‘on paper’ the director of a family business
that is active in project development. The enterprise turned out
not to work on projects in the district. The issue is no longer
relevant, because the council member has stepped down as director.
In many districts, council members follow a course offered by the
Integrity Office of the municipality. This is also the case in Zuidoost.
PvdA leader Burgers: “In such a course, very probing questions
are asked. Everybody makes a risk analysis of themselves. You ask
yourself: what precisely moves me to take a particular stand”.
At the national level, the PvdA has drawn up its own code of conduct
for politicians six months ago, which states that they are politicians
even when they are not working. “They are no model citizens,
but they are role models. Even when they are not acting as a politician,
their actions can affect their credibility and the credibility of
their party”, the code says.
Burgers thinks that this is going quite far: “Of course politicians
are role models, but I think that they should be allowed to be human
too. If, for example, someone has once been caught for riding a
bicycle without a light, this is not alright of course, but I do
not think that we should hold that against them”.
Burgers is not referring to former alderman Rob Oudkerk, who was
once caught riding a bicycle without a light, but to the current
District Chairwoman Elvira Sweet. Recently, it became known that
she has twice been caught for drinking and driving in 2003. “We
thoroughly went through her past once more, and it turned out that
at age nineteen she has been fined for riding a bicycle without
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