Some three or four years ago MP Mark Verheijen, then a member of the provincial government of Limburg, made a mistake in his expenses claim. He entered five or perhaps six chauffeur-driven trips from Limburg to the Randstad for functions unrelated to his job. That was stupid, granted, but during that same time he probably worked hundreds or perhaps thousands of unpaid hours as well.
A flawed expenses claim is never a good thing but mistakes do occur, especially when people are working very hard and the rules aren’t very clear, or not to hand. Verheijen admitted his mistake, said he’d been stupid and would pay the money back straight away. Case closed you’d think.
But no, not in politics. There’s going to be an integrity commission after the event which will pronounce on ‘the facts, the seriousness and Verheijen’s culpability’. With the elections not too far off, some politicians are practising their most sincere expressions and are already clamouring for his departure.
I want to take this opportunity to talk to you about Nico. Nico is in his fifties and a bookkeeper for a large company in Haarlem. Diplomacy isn’t Nico’s strong suit. Nuances aren’t his cup of tea either. Nico takes his job very seriously and every claim is painstakingly scrutinised. Nothing goes through without Nico’s say so.
One of the sales managers declares four beers at Schiphol airport and Nico has him in the office pronto. Even his boss is invited to sit in. The manager explains he had a three-hour delay and bumped into some important business relations who had given him lots of orders in the past. After a few rounds he decided it was time he treated them. Nico is not convinced and it’s with the greatest reluctance he agrees to pay out the money. Nico is never happier than when he spots a mistake which he can rectify.
Why are we spending time, energy and money on checking things after the fact? Things will slip through the cracks and in an environment where people work extremely hard this will happen even more frequently. Why doesn’t the world of politics have a Nico of its own? Why is there no financial department where people check expenses and alert politicians if they’ve made a mistake? They know the rules after all. Let politicians concentrate on their jobs and let Nico rectify mistakes before they can do any damage and cause a lot of hullabaloo afterwards.
Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor