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NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 08:00
Companies are concerned that after next month’s water board elections they will no longer get permanent seats on the boards of water boards. The cancellation of the seats is the result of a change in the law that took effect at the end of last year.
“This is a bad thing for business,” says Lambert Zwiers. On behalf of companies, he is still on the board of the Noorderzijlvest water board, which is located in parts of Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland. He is also chairman of the Dutch Association of Water Board Directors on behalf of Companies. “There must be someone who stands up for companies in a water board. Soon our voice will no longer be heard.”
According to him, the representation of companies was fair, because they generate a large part of the water board tax. “Depending on the water board, between 10 and 25 percent of the income comes from companies,” says Zwiers. “If no one stands up for the company’s interests anymore, it can lead to more costs ending up with companies.”
Each water board has a general board consisting of eighteen to thirty people. Of these, seven to nine were automatically allocated to representatives of companies, farmers and nature conservation organisations. Companies had between two and five of these so-called ‘secured seats’ per water board. The directors were appointed by employers’ organization VNO-NCW.
GroenLinks and D66 wanted all those seats to disappear, because they think it is more democratic if the entire board is elected by citizens. But there was no political majority for that.
A less far-reaching bill was passed: the guaranteed seats for companies will disappear and farmers and nature organizations will each receive two seats. As a result, there are only four guaranteed seats left and a larger part of a water board board is directly elected.
According to another representative of companies, it will lead to less cooperation and more conflict between water boards and companies. “What has become clear to me is that we add financial thinking,” says Gerard Aaftink, who is on the board of the Amstel, Gooi en Vecht water board.
He thinks that water boards will become increasingly political because parties want to profile themselves. “For example, the PvdA wants you not to have to pay water board tax up to an income of 130 percent of the minimum wage, the PvdD is very busy with biodiversity and Water Naturally (a collaboration between GroenLinks and D66, ed.) mainly focuses on themes such as sustainable energy. And the VVD is invisible in the board. In that field of tension, we try to look at the financial reality and arrange things properly.”
‘Cooperation badly needed’
According to him, the business community is more about collaboration. “That is badly needed in the future to solve the problems of climate change. But I expect more polarization and you don’t want that at this level of government. Some companies cover large areas, for example the RAI or Arena. Sometimes they have to take measures to retain water. But if you can no longer work well with the water board for this, it may go through the courts.”
Zwiers also thinks that companies may start collaborating less with water boards. “For example, production companies can purify the water they use themselves or outsource it to the water board. But then it is important that companies know that there are people on the board who look after business interests.”
New business parties
In some of the water boards, company representatives have now set up only one party in order to retain influence through the elections. Such as Nan Zevenhek, who currently sits on the board of De Dommel water board in North Brabant on behalf of companies. She is taking part in the elections as the leader of the new party Bedrijfsbelangen.
“There really are interests at stake, which I have seen from experience are difficult to safeguard with other parties,” says Zevenhek. “For example, there are parties that want companies to pay more tax. And this does not only concern large companies, but also smaller ones such as bakeries and other local shops. It is very easy for political parties to say: ‘we want the rates for keep residents low’. But if local shops pay for it, they won’t be able to afford it later. Especially with the high energy costs now.”
The water board elections are less than a month away, on Wednesday 15 March. This coincides with the elections for the Provincial Council.
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