champagne anarchist | armchair activist

Executive pay

Last weekend, Senate member Roger van Boxtel criticised trade union FNV’s new central wage demand of 900 euro (which would narrow the gap between low and high incomes), arguing that it’s «really too much». Van Boxtel himself, in his capacity as ceo of the Menzis health insurance company, got a 5,000 euro raise last year, resulting in a remuneration of 389,000 euros.

Over the past year and a half, high-paid executives of (semi) public organisations have been somewhat sheltered from public scrutiny. Because of the introduction of a new norm, the government has suspended its annual publication on excessive pay at (semi) public institutions.

Google Trends data show that there was a peak in searches for «top incomes» in January 2013, when the latest report (on 2011 incomes) was published. Interest in the topic remained, but hasn’t reached the January 2013 level since.

In the meantime, some efforts have been made to analyse data from the annual reports of the institutions themselves. Abvakabo FNV has published its annual Actiz 50, documenting excessive pay at health care institutions. And newspaper de Volkskrant has published an analysis of 119 (semi) public institutions.

The Volkskrant data contain about 40 board members receiving remunerations in excess of the current norm for newly hired executives (230,000 euros). And their list is far from complete: many of the highest-paying institutions in 2011 aren’t even included. Among them Roger van Boxtel’s employer, Menzis.

In short, we won’t have the complete picture until the government publishes a new report, perhaps in a few months.

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Connections between businesses and politics: banks and Shell dominate

Website Follow the Money has analysed the «revolving door» between politics and businesses in the Netherlands, adding that the examples discussed are far from exhaustive. I’ve expanded the list of connections between businesses and politics by checking the resumes of close to 700 politicians – government members and members of parliament – who have been active in Dutch politics after 2001.

The list is headed by the Rabobank: 32 politicians have (had) a position there. This score can perhaps partly be explained by the fact that Rabobank is a cooperative of local banks, each with their own advisory board; so many people have positions there. Number two is Royal Dutch Shell, the largest Dutch company (of course, it’s partly British).

From the list, it can be concluded that financial institutions play a central role in the connections between businesses and politics. The phenomenon is not politically neutral: almost three-quarters of the politicians who have (had) positions with the three largest banks are (or have been) affiliated to the conservative parties CDA and VVD.

One of them is former finance minister Gerrit Zalm (VVD). After his political career, he first moved to DSB Bank and then became chairman of the board of ABN Amro (for controversies, see the FTM article as well as this analysis by de Correspondent). Another example is Joop Wijn (CDA) who started at ABN Amro and subsequently served as minister and state secretary at the finance and economic affairs departments. After that, he had a management position at Rabobank and currently he’s on the executive board of ABN Amro.

Financial institutions aside, an interesting case is airline KLM, now part of Air France-KLM, which appears to have played a bit of an emancipatory role. Over the past years, as many as four former KLM stewardesses have obtained a position in national politics: Fransje Roscam Abbing-Bos (VVD, Senate); Gonny van Oudenallen (various parties, Lower House); Ing Yoe Tan (PvdA, Senate) and Kathleen Ferrier (CDA, Lower House).

Method

I’ve created a list of Dutch companies using information from Wikipedia and Elsevier / Bureau van Dijk. I’ve checked these companies against resumes from the (very useful) website Parlement.com. Here’s the Python script I used to download the resumes and to analyse them. The results had to be cleaned up manually. For example, former MP Wijnand Duyvendak, who’s been in charge of the Friends of the Earth Schiphol campaign, should not be counted as having had a position with Schiphol. To be on the safe side, I also didn’t count positions on the pension board or the board of a foundation of a company.

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King’s Day associations lose tax exempt status

Don’t ask me why, but Oranjeverenigingen (Orange Associations - most focus on organising festivities on King’s Day) seem to be struggling with the new transparency rules of the tax authority.

Recently, new rules have been introduced for organisations that want to receive tax-exempt donations. Among other things, they must have a website and publish the compensation their board members receive. As a consequence of these new rules, over two thousand organisations have had their «anbi status» withdrawn, broadcaster NOS reported.

The tax authority has published a dataset on organisations that have or used to have the anbi status. It appears that especially Oranjeverenigingen have been affected. Six percent of all organisations had their anbi status withdrawn, but this happened to 75% of organisations with «oranje» in their name. Obviously, it’s a bit risky to draw conclusions from this as long as the explanation of the phenomenon is unclear.

Method

Data from the tax authority are here, and here’s the R script I analysed the data with. I also checked this for other terms that occur frequently (organisations with the Dutch word for «first aid», «christian», «jehova», «education», «amsterdam», «third world aid shop» or «museum» in their names), but they don’t show the same pattern.

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Belkin quits. How loyal are sponsors of cycling teams?

Last year, Belkin became the title sponsor of the former Rabobank cycling team, but today it announced that it will end its sponsorship by the end of the year. Various commentators have expressed concern over the lack of continuity in sponsoring. Which raises the question: is it normal for a sponsor to quit after such a short period? And is this becoming worse?

Some sponsors leave after one or two years, while others remain loyal for ten years or more (Française des Jeux, Lampre, Lotto, Quick Step).

The graph above shows the sponsor turnover of UCI Pro Tour teams (the share of sponsors that would quit the subsequent year). Turnover is about 25%, which suggests that a normal sponsorship duration should be about four years. So Belkin’s loyalty is not impressive by those standards.

While the sponsorship duration fluctuates, there doesn’t appear to be a trend of sponsors becoming more or less loyal.

Method

I retrieved sponsor names from team names of UCI Pro Tour teams listed by Cycling News. Due to variations in spelling (Française des Jeux, FDJ, FDJ.fr), the data needed some cleaning up. If you want to check them: here’s a list of sponsors and the years in which I think they were active.

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Cyclists should have priority here

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Some crossings make you wonder: isn’t it weird that cyclists don’t have priority here. This occurs in Amsterdam, but more often in the country. There are different variants, but often there’s a bend in the cycle path just before a crossing. The cycle path is no longer part of the main road and cyclists are confronted with give way road markings. You have to give way to everybody: motorists coming from behind who turn right, oncoming traffic turning left and traffic from the right.

Often, you have to give way to rather secondary roads. For example, the exit to a tiny car park along the Oostvaardersdijk in Almere (photo above). Or the entrance of a government building at the Amsterdamseweg in Velsen-Zuid, where motorists who get priority subsequently have to stop at a gate anyway.

As a cyclist, you end up with a tricky crossing. You have to pay attention to traffic from behind, oncoming traffic and traffic from the right. The sense of insecurity mixes with indignation at the fact that apparently, people have specifically diverted the cycle path just to rob cyclists of their priority. Why are they doing this?

I put this question – in somewhat more neutral terms – to a number of road maintenance authorities, with illustrations from Velsen-Zuid, Watergang, Monnickendam, Weesp, Almere and Muiden. Their answers reveal that there are two reasons for bending cycle paths. First, this creates a space for motorists coming from the right where they can wait before entering or crossing the main road (this is a reason for bending the cycle path, but in itself not a reason to rob cyclists of their priority). Second, it’s about bicycle safety. In the words of the spokesperson of the Province of Noord-Holland:

For reasons of bicycle safety, we at the province often choose not to let cyclists have priority, especially outside the built-up area. It’s the same thing as with roundabouts: you may have priority as a cyclist, but whether you’ll be given priority is a different matter. And with roundabouts, it’s been shown that cyclists who have priority are more often involved in accidents, simply because they’re not given priority.

It’s good to know that the safety of cyclists is high on the agenda. But bending the cycle path and robbing cyclists of their priority – I’m not convinced that’s the right solution. In fact, it’s a bit twisted to reward motorists for not paying attention to cyclists who have priority. There have to be better ways to make them pay attention to cyclists and to slow them down.

As I said, such situations occur mainly in the country. You can point to situations in Amsterdam where cyclists should have priority, but mostly these don’t concern cycle paths along main roads that have been bended. However, there is a slightly similar situation opposite the entrance of the Westerpark.

The original Dutch version of this article appeared in the OEK (pdf). More examples here.

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