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SP demands official enquiry into costs of Afghan mission

3 August 2008

SP demands official enquiry into costs of Afghan mission

The General Accountancy Office of the Netherlands ("Algemene Rekenkamer" - ARK) must conduct an enquiry into the total costs of the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan, according to SP Member of Parliament and foreign affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel. Van Bommel's demand was prompted by recent reports that the mission may have been as much as four times more expensive than foreseen in August 2006, when the first Dutch soldiers arrived on Afghan soil. He will present an official request to this effect to the president of the ARK on on Monday.

Harry van Bommel“As early as 1997 ARK published a damning report on the cost of peacekeeping operations," says Van Bommel. "The conclusion then was that the Defence Ministry had an 'inadequate understanding' of the actual total expenditure dedicated to the performance of peacekeeping operations. It's clear that not much has changed.”

At the onset of the mission in August 2006 the projected costs were estimated at €380 million, a sum later revised upwards to €580m. To cover the prolongation to 2010, a sum of €540m was made available. These estimates are exclusive of the high costs of after-care and of the loss of two Chinook helicopters, an F16 and an Apache helicopter. In addition, the high price of oil is leading to raised transport costs. According to Van Bommel, however, higher costs are not solely a result of such setbacks, but also of the fact that the government originally had an entirely different mission in mind. "What began as a reconstruction operation has become a battle mission," says Van Bommel. "The Ministry of Defence should surely have taken this possibility into account, but it did not mention it to Parliament when the decisions regarding the sending of troops were being taken. Clearly the government feared that it would not receive sufficient support for a mission with a different character.”

It appears from the ARK report Financial Insight into Peacekeeping Operations (Financieel Inzicht in Vredesoperaties) of 1997, that looks into, amongst other things, Dutch military missions in the former Yugoslavia, that ARK at the time had repeated problems with the methodology then in use for estimating costs. The report concluded that "a number of items of expenditure directly attributable to the peacekeeping operations were incorrectly not marked as additional." In the SP's view this is the case once again, and for this reason the party is urging ARK to launch a specific enquiry into the matter. There must be certainty regarding the accuracy, the reliability and the completeness of the expenditure estimates and the actual spending realised.

Van Bommel's view is that a comparison between the costs of the huge infrastructural transport projects undertaken recently within the Netherlands and the costs associated with Afghanistan is unavoidable. "As soon as the politicians have given the go-ahead, the costs rocket. The bill in the end comes to many times more than the figure on the original estimate. This has got to stop. What we're dealing with here is public money.”

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