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Council members may be urged to take integrity test

12 March 2008 - Do you have large debts or visit porn websites at work? The Maastricht Municipality is going to urge council members to undergo an integrity screening. The test may be adopted by Amsterdam district councils as well, says spokesperson Duco Adema.

The Maastricht screening is to alert council members to potential risks. For example, certain combinations of functions may entail the risk of conflicts of interest. Other potential risks may derive from situations that put politicians in a vulnerable situation, such as watching porn websites during working hours; having large debts; bankruptcy and ‘excessive use’ of drugs.

Maastricht claims that the new policy is ‘unique in the Netherlands’, but a spokesperson of the Amsterdam Municipality is not impressed. “Amsterdam is a forerunner on the terrain of integrity policies”. She points to the Municipal Integrity Office (BI) which provides training courses to council members. She could not say whether these courses include a risk assessment.

Duco Adema (PvdA), chairman of the council of district chairpersons, says he has asked the BI to take measures after a study by the Vrije Universiteit revealed that eight district council members had voted on subsidies for organisations they are involved with.

He wants the BI to define more clearly what behaviours are acceptable. “As an example, I referred to a council member who lives at the Rijnstraat and who wants to be open to residents’ comments on plans to renovate the street”. He further wants the BI to pay more attention to potential conflicts of interest in the training courses for district council members.

Adema emphasises that this is not just an Amsterdam issue. “It would therefore definitely be valuable to take the test being proposed in Maastricht into consideration. This might perhaps be included in the training programme”, he says, adding that he does not yet know what the test exactly looks like.

Mayor Gerd Leers of Maastricht (photo) says he has a role as ‘booster and guard of integrity’ and that he can therefore urge council members to undergo a screening. Adema says the role of district chairpersons is different, because they do not have the position of council chairperson.

The new Maastricht policy was developed in response to controversies over council members. Gerard van Rens (CDA) was pressurised to step down after the Mayor had warned that his debts brought him into a vulnerable position.

The council further wants Jan Hoen (also CDA) to step down as vice council chairman because of his contacts with bars and restaurants, which might create the impression of a conflict of interest. The Maastricht city council will discuss the new integrity policy on 25 March.

In Amsterdam, the issue of integrity was raised after the Accounting Office concluded that council members in Zuidoost had been involved in conflicts of interest involving personal gain. The aforementioned study by the Vrije Universiteit suggests that such practices are more widespread.

More recently, the police closed down an off license where fifty persons had been found consuming alcohol. Also, a loaded gun would have been found. The off license is owned by the wife of a PvdA district council member in Zuidoost. According to the PvdA, she has appealed the decision to close her business.

Photo: Peter Strelitski


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