NOS News•today, 19:07
editor Climate and Energy
editor Climate and Energy
Obligation to remain silent when assessing damage to houses. Minutes were incorrectly adjusted afterwards by lawyers from Shell and Exxon. And emotional reactions to the attitude of national politicians when dealing with gas extraction problems. Many intriguing issues came up today, as the third week of the Groningen parliamentary inquiry started.
One of the witnesses, Jacques Wallage, chaired the so-called Dialogue Table together with Jan Kamminga from 2014 to 2015; a group of residents, entrepreneurs and social organizations whose task was to discuss solutions independently of administrators. One of the first things the Dialogue Table wanted to achieve is that victims would no longer be dependent on damage assessments by NAM.
To Wallage and Kamminga’s indignation, they were told by claims handlers that they had a duty of confidentiality. “They told us: we are not allowed to talk about the rules of the game that the NAM has imposed on us. So they had to give a rating and say; people, no we are not going to do it, or we are only going to do it halfway. But they were allowed to people not explain what guidelines they had been given”.
Not the boss alone
Wallage was disturbed by the attitude of the then Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp, who kept repeating that he alone was responsible for gas extraction in Groningen. “We felt that we should also participate in the discussion at the Dialogue Table about the gas decision and about the amount of gas to be extracted,” says Wallage.
But Kamp thought it was only his responsibility. Wallage says about that; “I don’t agree with that. Being responsible does not mean that you are in charge on your own. Ministers are not about everything. They have people for that, partners in society who are also allowed to find something.”
Another element that Wallage emphasized is that he believes that it is not the NAM that is responsible for the safety of citizens, but the government. He was clearly moved when he spoke about this to the committee: “Who cares about the safety of houses in Groningen? That is the government, isn’t it? The fact that it was under the care of the government for two or three years. NAM, of course that’s not true.”
keep it small
Max van den Berg, the Queen’s Commissioner at the time of the earthquake in Huizinge (2012), also had difficulty with the attitude of Minister Kamp and the officials at his ministry. The Ministry of Economic Affairs wanted to keep the problems caused by gas extraction in Groningen small, Van den Berg experienced.
He explains: “It became clear to us that the government, through Henk Kamp, believed that NAM was responsible and that it had caused the damage. And it also had to investigate and compensate for the damage. The idea was that the State was not responsible. for that damage, while billions had been taken out of it. Then it became clear that he wanted to keep it small.”
He was therefore blamed for openly arguing for compensation of one billion euros, not only by the minister but also by MPs from the coalition. Van den Berg thought that Groningers were now sometimes entitled to this compensation. After all, the Netherlands has earned a lot of money from Groningen gas, he said. “Of the 400 billion in natural gas revenues, only a pittance went to Groningen”, Van den Berg expressed the feeling that is widely experienced in Groningen.
pent up emotions
The last witness was the former chairman of the Groninger Soil Movement, Jelle van der Knoop. His pent-up emotions also came out during his interrogation. He described the uncomfortable contacts with Minister Kamp. But the House of Representatives has also let it know as far as he is concerned.
There have been countless parliamentary debates and many discussions with MPs, but to Van der Knoop’s disappointment, the House was never able to adjust policy. “You can expect the House of Representatives to stand next to the citizen.”