Outcome of Limburg integrity affair investigation – no conflict of interest but culture of looking away

That is the conclusion of the emeritus professors of public administration Wim Derksen and Ernst ten Heuvelhof in a report published Friday with the revealing title Looking away as culture. The reason for the research was a NRCpublication from March, which showed, among other things, that CDA member Herman Vrehen hired private companies with public money on behalf of the IKL landscape foundation.

The question was whether there was a conflict of interest by three CDA provincial administrators, Ger Koopmans, Hubert Mackus and Patrick van der Broeck, who may have favored their party colleague. The researchers see no reason to conclude that there was a conflict of interest.

Since the riot over the IKL affair erupted in March of this year, Limburg has been in a governance crisis. The entire provincial government and the governor resigned. VVD member Johan Remkes was flown in as acting governor to put things in order. He reacted with relief to the research result. ‘No conflict of interest, Limburg can continue and that is now also urgently needed.’

Yet the professors, who conduct archival research and spoke to thirty administrators and civil servants, pass a harsh judgment on Limburg’s administrative culture. ‘No one took the initiative to take a closer look at Mr Vrehen, at all his organizations and the relationships between them,’ they conclude. That only happened after reporting in the press.

‘However correct or incorrect the frame of the ‘friends’ republic’ may be, it is in any case striking that the province has engaged so often with a former deputy’, they write further. It is up to the integrity committee of the provincial councils to judge whether they acted with integrity.

In May, the province of Limburg was once again shaken by an integrity issue. PvdA deputy Eric Geurts would have verbally promised a real estate company in Brunssum that it would not have to pay a penalty of 360 thousand euros, Remkes announced.

The company did not have its fire safety provisions in order. Geurts said that he had tried to get the company to take measures after all: ‘If the measures had been taken, it would no longer be necessary to collect the penalty.’

Remkes has announced a large, general investigation into potential abuses in Limburg politics this spring. A special hotline has been opened for this purpose. That investigation is still ongoing. At the beginning of this month it was announced that SP party leader Emile Roemer will take over from Remkes: he has been nominated as the new governor of Limburg.

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