Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dutch parliament wants money back

The lower house of the Dutch parliment wants the government to reclaim money wrongfully paid to a former Labour Party minister employed since 2002 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

On Monday, Eveline Herfkens was acquitted of charges that she abused her position at the UNDP for personal gain. Ms Herfkens had been accused of violating the UN's internal code of conduct by accepting 280,000 euros from the Dutch government to pay for her New York apartment and her removal costs when she moved to Maryland.

In a letter to Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, Kemal Dervis - UNDP director - revealed that Ms Herfkens had signed a document stating that she had received a copy of the UN rules. These rules state that UN employees are not allowed to receive compensation from their own governments.

Nevertheless, he also said Ms Herfkens was never specifically informed that she was breaking the rules. He says the Dutch government itself should have known about the regulations. The UNDP chief also accepted some of the blame, admitting that Ms Herfkens' introduction to the UN had been inadequate.


On Monday, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told parliament that he hadn't read the letter, but accepted that his department had made mistakes. "The ministry should not have paid compensation to Ms Herfkens and she should not have accepted it," he said.

His department will investigate whether it is legally possible to retrieve the money. Last month the minister told the house that Ms Herfkens had twice refused to pay back the amount, but said he would demand she return it if it was discovered that she had knowingly broken the rules.

The former development cooperation minister believes she has done nothing wrong, because the Dutch government offered her the compensation when she was given the UNDP job. She says paying the money back would be an admission of guilt.

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