Ignorance is bliss
Problem solved with just one kiss
In The Netherlands, the liberal-conservative VVD is the party of ‘law and order’: small crimes and misdemeanours must be punished vigorously. Also people who receive state welfare or unemployment benefits and who violate the conditions for receiving these social security arrangements, must be penalized for their faulty behaviour: here is the tax-payer’s money at stake.
VVD politicians and members of parliament have traditionally strong opinions on these ‘spongers from the civil society’. They show no mercy or understanding, when it comes to reducing or totally cutting off social security payments from (first-time) offenders. Explaining that you made a mistake, won’t help you with the Dutch law-and-order party. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is the general opinion among VVD-members.
The same VVD-politicians and MP’s, however, are NOT so harsh and straightforward, when it comes to judging their own faulty behaviour. The condemnable behaviour of province delegate Ton Hooijmaijers for Noord-Holland or the soap opera concerning ex-senator and alderman for Roermond Jos van Rey did not lead to a massive ‘mea culpa’ by VVD party members.
Neither did “billboard-gate” for the current state secretary of Tax Affairs Frans Weekers: the earlier mentioned alderman Jos van Rey, in cooperation with the local real estate tycoon Piet van Pol, paid a large billboard along the highway for Frans Weekers. At the time, both Van Pol and Van Rey already had been under heavy fire for reputedly paying/accepting bribes and for claims of corruption. It was a typical ‘Limburg-style’ gift for Weekers, who wanted to reclaim his position as MP for the VVD: a gift seemingly ’without obligations’ towards the generous donor.
When the news about the billboard leaked to the national newspapers and Weekers got into political trouble, his defence was something like this: ‘In my opinion I did not do anything wrong, and if I did, I am sorry about it’. He promised to be a good boy and remained in his position, due to votes in his favor by PvdA (the coalition-partner of the VVD) and VVD itself, during ‘a vote of no confidence’. That was all. People, who don’t understand by heart that their behaviour has been condemnable, are not easy to scratch, as they simply ignore their own lack of morality.
Yesterday, the news was spread that another very prominent VVD-member has been accused of condemnable behaviour. This time, it is the current Minister of Traffic and Waterways and former Minister of Infrastructure and Environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen.
KIWA is a commercial bureau, which has been appointed for the execution of official assessments and certification stages, by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. KIWA is a former state agency, which has been privatized a few years ago. Melanie Schultz van Haegen’s husband had been the longterm owner of a large package of shares in KIWA.
Haro Schultz van Haegen had already a longlasting relation with KIWA and had been involved in the earlier privatization process of the bureau, well before his wife became Minister of Infrastructure and Environment. When his wife was applying for the position of minister, Haro Schultz created some ‘artificial’ distance between him and KIWA, by abolishing his position as counsellor of KIWA. However, the large package of shares was never mentioned during the job application of Melanie Schultz. In 2011, Haro Schultz sold his package of shares in KIWA for €3 million, earning a considerable profit from this deal.
The Dutch newspaper ‘Volkskrant’ discovered this grave omission a few days ago and wrote an article upon it. Here are the pertinent snips of this article:
During her inauguration as minister of Infrastructure and Environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen didn’t mention to PM Mark Rutte that her husband was owner of a large package of shares in a company, which held close ties with her future ministry. In August 2011, Haro Schultz van Haegen earned almost 3 million euro with the sale of the special investment vehicle, which held the shares of this company.
The mentioned company is the certification bureau KIWA from Rijswijk, which takes care of the issuance of permits for the transport industry, by order of the ministry.
As a minister, Schultz van Haegen had a big influence on KIWA’s main business. She set the tariffs that KIWA was allowed to charge and she assessed the company, via the Inspection Living Environment and Transport. She also had to justify her decisions against the members of parliament and trade organizations, who complained about the permit monopoly and high charges of KIWA
In August 2011, KIWA was purchased by the private equity fund NPM Capital. With this sale, the shareholders of the holding company which held KIWA earned dozens of millions of euro’s. Haro Schultz earned €2.9 million, just as his business partner. He states: “KIWA’s growth soared at the time and all kinds of companies were added to it. Besides that, my counselling firm contributed substantially to the growth and success of the company”
The financial interests of Schultz van Haegen […] remained unnoticed, until now. In official records, kept by the Dutch market authority ACM, the business interest of the minister’s husband in KIWA remained invisible. However, this business interest can be found in a publication of the Italian peer of the ACM, the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (i.e. ‘the Authority for Protection of Competion and Market’).
Haro Schultz van Haegen states that it was not necessary to mention his business interest in KIWA at PM Mark Rutte, when his wife was approached for a ministers position in the autumn of 2010: “I resigned as counsellor of KIWA. My possession of KIWA-shares was not of any importance. We wanted to play by the rules; that is how we are. Everything is arranged as written in the ‘Handbook for entering government officials. I was just an indirect shareholder and had no influence”.
[If you understand Dutch and want to investigate all the paperwork and data that the Volkskrant used for its investigation yourself, please use the aforementioned link to the article. The Volkskrant printed a number of PDF’s with additional information, like for instance the transcripts of an interview with the spokesperson of the minister.]
I am flabbergasted by the arrogant and stupid naivety of both the minister Melanie Schultz and her husband Haro. “My possession of KIWA-shares was not of any importance. We play by the rules”.
‘Trust us, we are decent people. Yes, really!’
Yes, Haro Schultz resigned his counselling position before his wife’s installation as minister. And according to Melanie Schultz herself, she didn’t make any decision on the future of KIWA, during the time of Haro's KIWA share ownership: she stated this in the remainder of this article (not mentioned here). Although I personally find this very hard to believe, I cannot prove differently.
Nevertheless, how could the minister and her husband ignore their possession of a package of shares with a sales value of €3 million?! ‘I was just an indirect shareholder’. Yeah right! With €3 millions in shares, you can hardly be called a simple, indirect shareholder. Then you are one of the big guys.
Besides that, every decision upon the future of KIWA by his wife's ministry (certification tariffs, KIWA's monopoly position as a certification bureau etc.) directly influenced the value of his shares and thus - in the process - their financial future.
The fact which makes it more sickening, is that the VVD is the ruthless law-and-order party, especially for the poorest part of the Dutch society. At the same time, the party spreads ‘an enduring stench of not knowing where public interest stops and private interest begins’.
You cannot blame unemployed or poor people for illegally receiving unemployment benefits and welfare or for working without paying taxes, when your party is enduringly involved in actions that are either straightaway illegal or at best travel the edges of legality and moral business conduct.
Ton Hooijmaijers, Jos van Rey, Frans Weekers and Melanie Schultz van Haegen seem to form a growing line of VVD-representatives, who went over to the dark side, without ever acknowledging that they did something wrong. When minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen has some conscience after all, she resigns and apologizes for indignified ministerial conduct. However, when looking at her predecessors in this ‘line of shame’, she will not do so.
I hope that the Second Chamber of Parliament (which probably means the PvdA in practice) has the ‘cojones’ to send her away, like it should!