Stop the foreign jollies for mayors and councillors

2 July 2012

Stop the foreign jollies for mayors and councillors

Secretary of State for Development Cooperation Ben Knapen should end subsidies for foreign trips by mayors and councillors, which do nothing to promote the effectiveness of development cooperation projects.

Ewout Irrgang is a Member of Parliament for the SP

December 2010 saw an enormous fuss from various local authorities in the Netherlands following the successful moving an amendment, backed by the SP and the centre-right VVD, ending the subsidy for development cooperation initiatives by local councils. The money freed up was reserved for the global fund against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The thinking behind this was that the international struggle against AIDS was a much more effective way in which to combat poverty than was subsidising foreign jollies for Dutch mayors and councillors. Partly as a result of this amendment Secretary Knapen decided to develop a new programme for the strengthening of public administration in developing countries. For this project, known as the Local Government Capacity Programme (LGCP), the Union of Dutch Local Authorities International (VNG International) received a subsidy from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the period 2012-2016. The subsidy was to go towards strengthening local government in nine developing countries. This renewed programme consists of making available specific local government expertise directed at the Dutch government’s four policy spearheads. It is also, moreover, stated in a letter from the Secretary of State to Parliament, where a debate on the issue will be held tomorrow, that programmes ‘should not lead to an inflation of meetings and travel’.

First indications, however, are not promising. As announced recently in this paper, Deventer mayor Andries Heidema went last April, in the context of this new programme, on a ‘fact-finding mission’ to Uganda, taking not only his international policy advisor along, but also the presidents of two local foundations, all at the expense of VNG International, and thus , indirectly, of Secretary Knapen. There seems here not only to have been probable improper use of the subsidy (presidents of foundations are not local government officials), but it turns out that the amount of expenses claimed and reimbursed by VNG was once again so generous that it appears that just about anyone can go along on a jolly. In answer to questions from councillors Mayor Heidema stated that VNG International had certainly paid the expenses of ‘only’ three persons but that ‘included in the accumulated daily allowance were also the costs for the fourth person accompanying them on the trip.’ The delegation to Uganda consisted also of two councillors and a project leader from Goes, and the town clerk and a LGCP project leader from Gemert-Bakel.

In total, there were nine persons who went to Uganda. Rather a lot for a mere fact-finding mission. The image of a moveable feast was thereby confirmed. Was it,then, at least effective? Leafing through the reports reveals that food security has been chosen as a theme for Uganda, and visits were paid to, amongst other places, agro-cooperatives and aid projects run by the aforementioned foundations. The idea is in part to offer support to existing cooperatives and to develop a programme to encourage new cooperative start-ups. All very useful, but for such purposes we already have a professional organisation, Agriterra, which has, moreover, years of experience and a great deal of expertise at its disposal. As for the visits to aid projects run by Dutch foundations, such as a school, this programme is absolutely not intended to support these. If this mission is typical of the programme then the choice will continue to be straightforward for the SP. Better money for effectively combating AIDS than for foreign jollies for mayors and councillors.

This article first appeared on 26th June in the original Dutch in the local daily newspaper the Deventer Dagblad.

You are here