“It is about a budget that was incorrectly or incompletely checked by the Malian government and about suspicions of fraud,” Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Minister Sigrid Kaag admitted to the Dutch Lower House on Tuesday.
The House of Representatives had forced an investigation into fraud with Dutch money to be made public in Mali, demanding that Kaag travel to the country for a fact-finding mission.
The information was made public on Tuesday afternoon, even though the House of Representatives had known about it for months. The Dutch politician of the leftist Democrats 66 party, has been a Minister in the third cabinet of Premier Mark Rutte since 26 October 2017.
Kaag was put on the spot by a Canadian study and Dutch financial data revealing the problematic expenditures of the period from 2005 to 2015. The Netherlands has since stopped budget support to the country. During the period in question, the Netherlands provided aid to Mali of 265 million euros, 82 million of which was specifically for budget support.
Mali is said to have spent more than a billion euros – about 5 percent of the total budget – wrongly.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also investigating a second case of possible malpractice in Mali, but this does not involve budget support. The corruption allegedly happened between 2009 and 2013. As soon as more is known, the Lower House will be informed.
Minister Kaag returned from her visit to Mali last week. There she discussed the matter with Prime Minister Boubou Cissé. “I have expressed my concerns about Malian government spending, poor management and suspected fraud,” the minister said.
The Malian Prime Minister assured the Dutch that fighting corruption was a “priority” for him, Kaag assured the House, that had earlier been confidentially informed about the money that went missing.
The Canadians, who rely, among other things, on reports from the Malian Court of Auditors, concluded that between 2005 and 2017 a total of € 1,13 billion was spent irregularly by the authorities in Mali.
Of this amount, some 729 million was “poorly” managed, the news site nu.nl reported. It is estimated that at least 401 million euros has disappeared due to fraud.
Fighting corruption is a difficult, said Kaag, but conceded that if such conditions are not met, sanctions should follow.
Kaag said she was prepared to provide additional support to the Mali Court of Auditors (the Bureau du Vérificateur Général) so that it can better control government spending.
The PVV had long been urging the Minister to make public the secret investigation, but she countered that she should first discuss it with the government of Mali.
In a letter to the Lower House she noted that there had been “an ultimate attempt” on her part to reveal the figures.
The Canadian study is from November last year, suggesting that Kaag had been informed about the problem. A week and a half ago, the PVV requested a roll-call vote in the House of Representatives about the confidential letters that Kaag had already sent to Parliament three times – and which, according to the PVV, contained the damning information. Only Forum for Democracy (FvD) supported the PVV in its efforts to uncover the corruption.
Kaag claimed that she did not want to undermine “the confidentiality and effectiveness of the negotiation process,” nor the “exchange of information in diplomatic communications”. But Dutch daily, De Telegraaf revealed existence of the secret letters.
At the start of Kaag’s visit, it was far from certain that she would succeed in convincing the Malian government that the investigation should be made public. It was the Malian Court of Auditors itself that had looked at government spending since 2005 and had drawn the disturbing conclusions, but the government and the public prosecutor in Mali had done nothing about it.
At the request of the international donor community, Canada had subsequently analyzed the results of all investigations by the Court.
Over the next four years, Mali will however still be receiving some €250 million in aid money from the Netherlands, but only for specific projects, and no longer for the government budget.
The Minister also visited Burkino Faso, where the Netherlands will once again support projects after an interruption of six years. On her arrival in the Malian capital Bamako, at the beginning of the afternoon, the Malian Foreign Minister had refused to receive Sigrid Kaag.
He had sent a text message to the delegation that he would be entertaining the Vice President of Angola after picking him up from the airport.
Kaag has to wait for ten minutes in the hall of the PM’s office, but was eventually allowed to enter with the ambassador of the Netherlands and his deputy. There was relief expressed when they finally ended the conversation almost 45 minutes later.
The Malian government has promised to support the disclosure of the fraud investigation. Facing the cameras from Malian television, Kaag said that the relationship between the Netherlands and Mali had been “strengthened” by the conversation with the Prime Minister and that “the fight against corruption” and “for transparency” continued.
In her letter to the Lower House, Kaag noted about her conversation with Prime Minister Cissé that he had accepted the recommendations of the Canadians.
In Bamako, at the end of that Tuesday afternoon, Kaag opened the new embassy building of the Netherlands with a hall filled with guests.
There were pieces of cheese and the traditional herring. The Malian Foreign Minister was not present for the official part of the opening, but Minister Amadou Koïta, with the portfolio of “Malians abroad”, was present.
After their speeches, Koïta, Kaag and the Dutch ambassador joined together for a toast – with three glasses of water.