Government forced to launch enquiry into 'travel agent for MPs' as Parliament backs SP proposal

16 June 2009

Government forced to launch enquiry into 'travel agent for MPs' as Parliament backs SP proposal

The government must commission an enquiry into the usefulness and necessity of the large number of working visits made by Members of Parliament to developing countries under the auspices of the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Democracy (NIMD). According to SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel, the involvement of political parties in the NIMD should be subject to closer scrutiny. "The Institute is known in developing countries as the 'Dutch Parliament's travel agency'," he says. This year alone MPs have travelled to Guatemala and Ghana, while this week sees yet another trip, this time to Nairobi. "I doubt whether this is useful and necessary," says Van Bommel, explaining why he had proposed an enquiry into the matter in a motion also backed by Labour (PvdA) Member Chantal Gill’ard.

Harry van BommelThe NIMD is under heavy fire because of a lack of financial accountability, has been ordered to repay thousands of euros in subsidies, and is threatened by bankruptcy unless its debts are written off. Development Minister Bert Koenders had already said, before the motion was carried, that while he did not want to see the Institute bankrupt, he was prepared to be strict, promising an extensive evaluation of the way in which problems had arisen.

A report from the state General Accountancy Office showed that the NIMD sees spending not accounted for as merely an 'administrative omission'. Koenders is taking the matter rather more seriously, to the extent that he has put the Institute into administration. The minister was unable, however, to confirm the existence of an extremely critical report concerning the performance of the NIMD in Indonesia. Yet on the basis of its own sources the SP knows that such a report does indeed exist, but that it has disappeared into someone's filing system. Koenders had said that he did not know of it, but would certainly follow this up.

The NIMD was established in 2000 by seven Dutch political parties, with the SP being the only significant parliamentary grouping at that time to abstain, although the right-wing populist grouping the PVV (Freedom Party), formed only recently, has also declined to participate. MPs from neither party take advantage of the Institute's services. With former Foreign Minister Ben Bot as president of its executive, the NIMD's ostensible aim is to support democratisation in Africa, Latin America, Asia and eastern Europe.

As the biggest of the few parliamentary groups which do not participate in the NIMD's activities, the SP is concerned by other parties' involvement in the Institute. “We find their role in the Institute extremely dubious," says Harry van Bommel. "The trips it sponsors have the aim of telling politicians elsewhere in the world how democracy works. Who are we to impose this on them?"

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