Parliament too fond of travel

11 April 2008

Parliament too fond of travel

This week the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs met to discuss a problem that it had encountered. The Committee has been invited to visit by the 'parliament' of Saudi Arabia, but has no money left to cover the costs. Its budget of €68,000 is supposed to cover two trips a year, but we've already spent the lot for 2008 on going to Indonesia. What can be done?

by Harry van Bommel

Harry van BommelIn the Committee meeting I argued that a trip to Saudi Arabia should not be a priority and for that reason asking for an additional budget for it was out of the question. There are countries in and beyond Europe with which the Netherlands has a much more important relationship and which are therefore more obvious destinations for our visits. Moreover, it's also about whether we can actually learn anything in a country like that which will be of help to us in our work. You can hardly call Saudi Arabia a democracy and its 'parliament' contains no real elected representatives of the people. This means also that to honour it with a visit is inappropriate. The fact that many members of the committee thought that Saudi Arabia was prepared to pay for the trip worked as a catalyst, provoking enthusiasm for its acceptance. When it turned out that the Saudi offer could not be accepted and Parliament's budget proved insufficient, faces fell, and I assumed that the jolly would be cancelled. This was premature.

Much against my better judgement, the committee has now applied to Parliament's executive for an additional budget, specially for this trip. In order to limit spending on travel, I put forward an alternative proposal. As things stand, the committee will be represented by three members of the CDA – the Christian Democrats, the biggest political group – two from the PvdA – Labour, the second biggest group and the CDA's partners in government – and one each from the remaining groups. This is of course ridiculous. Each group should be allowed to send just one MP, which would immediately save a great deal of money. This proposal did not win support, however, which is hard to understand without coming to the unavoidable conclusion that MPs are a bit too fond of travel, and that the political groups of the PvdA and CDA see foreign travel as a welcome treat rather than a real political activity. This explains also why they send MPs who aren't at all active on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Taxpayers' money is here not being put to good use. That's why only one solution can be justified: not more money but a bit less fondness for travel. You can always go to Saudi in the summer holidays. At your own expense. I would wager that interest in this would be somewhat smaller.

You are here