Published On: Sun, Sep 19th, 2021

Controversy puts Knops’ role as Mr. Good Governance on the line

PHILIPSBURG — State Secretary Drs. Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) is at the center of a controversy after the Dutch newspaper NRC reported that he used the services of civil servants to solve a private issue. Four members of parliament have asked Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister Kajsa Ollengren (Home Affairs) questions about this issue, wondering whether Knops can still function as “Mister Good Governance” towards the Kingdom’s Caribbean countries.

In 2010 Knops bought a parcel of land in the municipality Horst aan de Maas in the province of Limburg. He paid for 750 square meters but when the Cadastre measured the property it turned out to be 425 square meters larger. That obviously increased the value of Knops’ property.

NRC reported about this transaction in May 2020. Last week, NRC reported that Knops used the services of a state attorney, civil servants and a department of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations to handle the situation. After NRC and De Limburger reported about the transaction, Knops took both newspapers to court.

The question is now how this controversy will affect Knops’ credibility as the promoter of good governance in St. Maarten, Curacao and Aruba. There is no unanimous opinion about this issue.

The ministry defended its actions in a reaction to NRC: “Serious accusations about the integrity of the state secretary are relevant for his functioning.”

Leonie Heres, who teaches leadership and integrity at Utrecht University is not convinced. That something is legally not prohibited does not mean that it is sensible, she told the newspaper. “Civil servants have to serve the public interest. I don’t think this is the best way.”

Paul ‘t Hart, professor public administration at the same university acknowledged that civil servants occasionally do assist ministers and state secretaries with private issues. “But it is a slippery slope.”

This also seems to be the opinion of at least four members of the Dutch parliament. On September 16, MPs Renske Leijten (Socialist Party), Khadija Arib and Barbara Kathmann (PvdA) posed 24 questions and a day later Stephan Van Baarle (Denk) added another 13 questions about the controversy to Prime Minister Rutte and Minister Ollengren.

Leijten asked why serious allegations about the state secretary are relevant for his public functioning and why there are no rules for cabinet-members about the use of the civil service for private matters.

Arib and Kathmann want to know why the government has not answered the call from the Group of States against Corruption (Greco) to establish an integrity-code for cabinet-members. They also asked for an overview of the costs the state has incurred for the administrative and legal support of the state secretary.

Van Baarle asked whether the government is prepared to initiate an independent investigation into support Knops received from the civil service.

Arib and Kathmann posed the 64,000-dollar question that will play on the mind of politicians in the Caribbean: “Up to which point can the discussion about the integrity and reputation of State Secretary Knops influence his public functioning, for instance as the one responsible for the integrity in the Caribbean part of the kingdom?”

Photo caption: File photo of Dutch State Secretary Raymond Knops. Photo provided by DossierKoninkrijksRelaties.nl.