Column: "A Very Dutch Scandal"
One pair of sunglasses. That is what everyone in The Hague is getting worked up about.It seems Finance Minister Wouter Bos lost his Ray Bans during a trip to Brussels last year. No one would have noticed, except that he then declared them as an official expense and charged the Dutch taxpayer 113 euros for a new pair.
This is just one of the expenses declared by cabinet ministers since they took office over two years ago, published in the best-selling Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. On the heels of the expenses affair in the UK, some see a similar scandal brewing here in the Netherlands.
Besides Mr Bos and his sunglasses, various other ministers also turned in expense claims.
Another Labour Party cabinet member, Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Frank Heemskerk, declared 90 euros for a tuxedo rental. The President of Ghana would have been surprised to see Mr Heemskerk show up at a state banquet in his regular suit.
Then there's the minister who gives his chauffeur time off. Development Minister Bert Koenders regularly works sixteen-hour days, so he occasionally has to make do without his government chauffeur. Mr Koenders submitted a taxi receipt for 240 euros and change.
And it's not just the Labour Party ministers. The Christian Democrats in the cabinet have their own declarations. Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin belongs to a number of professional associations, including The Dutch Law Association. He lets the taxpayers pay for the membership fees.
The worst offender, though, has to be Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings. He turned in a receipt for 1,510.35 euros. A lot of money for a Dutch expense account. Turns out he stayed a few nights in a fancy hotel while his official residency was being renovated. Maybe he should have bought a sleeping bag and slept on the floor.
What makes the expenses scandal here so terrible is that the Dutch reputation for being thrifty (in other words, cheap) is deserved. Where British politicians build tennis courts and swimming pools before anyone raises an eyebrow, their Dutch counterparts can't even buy a pair of sunglasses.
Then again, the list of declarations recently made public does not include the most common way in which ministers pay for things: on their ministry credit cards. Who knows, when the government makes those expenses public, maybe we'll learn about the mansions and luxury goods that Dutch ministers charged on their plastic.
But I doubt it.
photo by roel1943 on flickr.com