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District council members distrust minority colleagues

1 July 2007 - The subsidy affair in Zuidoost has a negative impact on the image of ethnic minority council members. Many district council members think that their minority colleagues apply less stringent norms when it regards potential conflicts of interest. There is support for a stricter code of conduct.

This is the outcome of a survey carried out by News from Amsterdam, in which 43 district council members participated.

In response to reports on conflicts of interest in Zuidoost politics, the Integrity Office (BI) stated last Thursday that some ethnic minority council members apply more stringent norms.

“They indicate that they refuse dual functions, avoid close contacts and impose restrictions on themselves when it regards networking. They do so, they say, because they fear creating the semblance of a conflict of interest sooner than their Dutch origin colleagues”, BI reported.

News from Amsterdam asked district council members whether they have the impression that their ethnic minority colleagues deal with potential conflicts of interest in a different manner. Rita Mungra (PvdA, Slotervaart) confirms the BI’s conclusions. Ethnic minority council members have to be even more careful: “Everything is meticulously considered to avoid unpleasant situations”.

However, almost half the respondents (19) think ethnic minority district council members apply less stringent norms than their Dutch origin colleagues.

The negative opinion of ethnic minority council members has much to do with the reports from Zuidoost. For example, Emile Jaensch (VVD, Oud-Zuid) has the impression that ethnic minority council members apply less stringent norms, but he explains: “I do not know of any instances among the people I know. I get this impression from the report on Zuidoost”.

Erna Berends (SP, Noord) also thinks that ethnic minority council members apply less stringent norms, “not based on my own experience, but because of what happened in Zuidoost”. Degi ter Haar (D66, de Baarsjes) thinks that there is a difference as well, but adds that ethnic minority council members in his district have a ‘stainless reputation’.

Tanja van Nieuwenhoven (PvdA, ZuiderAmstel) thinks there is no difference. “What happened in Zuidoost may well reflect this particular district and need not say anything about how ethnic minority council members in general deal with potential conflicts of interest”.

Coos Hoebe (GroenLinks, de Baarsjes) agrees.

Mart van de Wiel (OZO, Zuidoost) states that it is a matter of culture rather than ethnicity. “Someone from Limburg, raised with the political culture of the pillarisation and using ‘catholic networks’, will be influenced in his behaviour as well”.

Working with district council members from Zuidoost, BI has developed a proposal for a new code of conduct. It says that council members may not serve on the board or management of subsidised institutions, and that they may not contact civil servants or aldermen directly on the provision of a subsidy.

Regarding potential conflicts of interest, the Accounting Office proposes an even more stringent norm. Council members should preferably not have any position at all in institutions that may receive subsidy, not even as a volunteer or ‘regular’ employee.

Among the council members who responded to the News from Amsterdam questionnaire, there is broad support for the BI code, although 5 respondents believe it to be too strict. Thirty-three respondents have the impression that most members of their district council already observe the rules proposed by the BI.

Opinions are divided on the Accounting Office’s norms. A substantial group (17 respondents) believes these are too strict. A few respondents find they are not strict enough.

Some hold that it need be no problem if council members have a position in a subsidised institution, provided they deal with this in a transparent manner.

Michèl Tromp (VVD, Geuzenveld): “I think the rules are fine, but I fail to see why a council member should not be allowed to have a position in a foundation or company that receives subsidy, if you refrain from influencing council decision-making and from voting. The motivation does not convince me”.

Others believe that it is going too far to prohibit council members contacting aldermen or civil servants on subsidies. “It makes a very bureaucratic impression if everything is referred, and the administrative processes are often very slow”, says Wanda Pelt (GroenLinks, ZuiderAmstel).

Jeroen van Brederode (D66, Westerpark) also objects. “I think that it is characteristic of the situation in Zuidoost that there are so many clubs that want subsidies. And a PvdA that favours all these clubs. Perhaps the proposed code of conduct is needed in Zuidoost, where the provision of subsidies seems to have gotten out of hand years ago. For most districts, it is going way too far”.

However, a few district council members report that occasionally things go wrong in their districts as well. Erna Berends (SP, Noord) says that a fellow council member suggested to commission research from an organisation where her son is employed.

See also Zuidoost: ‘no clientelism


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