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ZuiderAmstel council members ‘not malicious but naive’

15 February 2008 - Despite having attended two training courses on integrity, a few ZuiderAmstel council members saw no harm in accepting a ‘courtesy card’ from the RAI convention centre. According to Jan Kok (GroenLinks), they were not malicious but naive.

For years, the RAI has been sending cards providing free access to exhibitions to the local party leaders as well as the members of the ZuiderAmstel government. Since Kok started a debate about whether accepting the card is compatible with the district’s integrity code, most party leaders and all members of the district government have turned in their cards.

Last week, Gerrit Herders (ZAS) called Kok’s questions ‘nosing’ and Pim Hallensleben (VVD) said he refused to hand in his card to the district, arguing that his integrity is something that concerns only him. Earlier, Noortje Smit (ZAB) had said she wants to keep using the card to stay informed of what goes on at the RAI.

However, council chairwoman Marije Cornelissen says that ‘almost all’ council members have turned in their card by now and that she is confident the rest will do so within a week. Meanwhile, council members jokingly ask each other: ‘was that you at the Home Exhibition?’

Every year in December, the directors of the RAI hand-pick the 1,500 people to receive a courtesy card. The recipients include key politicians in ZuiderAmstel, because of the ‘close collaboration’ the centre has with the district. A spokesperson says the RAI has no intention of influencing the politicians.

Reportedly, Jan van Delden of the SP was the only party leader not to receive a courtesy card this year. Perhaps the RAI assumed the SP had ceased to exist after two members were thrown out of the party and launched ZAS last year. Van Delden did not respond to a request to comment.

The RAI spokesperson says the centre will not change its policy because of the controversy: next year, the same politicians can expect to receive a card. Kok says he finds this very hard to believe: “this will only be counterproductive”.

Kok thinks that politicians who have been ‘pampered’ by the RAI may create the impression of not being entirely objective when they make decisions that affect the RAI. For that reason, they should not accept the card.

This is probably also the view expressed by the municipal Integrity Office in a written advice that will be sent to the council members. For unclear reasons, the office has labelled the advice ‘confidential’.

The RAI is the largest economic actor in the district. Currently, it is building the Expo Foyer, a luxury extension intended to accommodate parties for 500 to 1,000 people; product launches; dinner parties; award ceremonies and other events. The extension, expected to be finished by January 2009, is part of a 105 million euro upgrade of the convention centre.

The Expo Foyer is sometimes referred to as ‘ballroom’, but a new name will be announced in April. The upgrade is to help the RAI compete with centres in Barcelona, Copenhagen, Vienna, Zürich and Munich.

Image: Artist impression of the Expo Foyer. See also: Council members refuse to hand in RAI courtesy card


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