What about integrity researchers in integrity? (1)

Arijan Korteweg

Mariette Hammer, the independent government commissioner on sexual behavior, abuse and sexual violence since April 1, came to her Volkskrant– Interview from last week with a definition of transgressive behavior: “It’s simple: you cross the line and do something the other person doesn’t want.”

If only it were that simple, I thought as I read it. Borders require at least two, each on its own side of the line. Where the problems begin. Because what if the circumstances change, for example because the relationship between the “perpetrator” and the “victim” changes, or if one of them begins to see the boundaries differently? Or if business contacts continue outside of business hours as the boundaries seem to work differently? Or when memories of an event diverge to the point that no boundaries can be drawn? Or if behind the complaint is another complaint – eg a labor dispute, as the Integis research office suggests on their site? Or if the standards change over time to such an extent that the rules can no longer be defined?

Then the integrity investigators are transferred. Ethical masters are self-declared and draw the lines between what is and what is not. Agencies that are set up when someone has crossed the line are called Bing, Integis or Bezemer & Schubad. They can also be law firms, forensic accountants, corporate investigators, or emeritus professors. All with their own rules and permits.

They have been killed in a torrent of reports of infringing behavior at work (a 40 per cent increase since January), have been tested in local politics and have now arrived in Binnenhof. With deafening consequences. The Binnenhof is still waiting for the first border crossing to take place without fanfare. The entire left flank has already been hit by the border crossings. GroenLinks, for example, quickly got rid of Deputy Grashoff, Denk had an affair with MP Kuzu and BIJ1 hired the law firm Van Overbeek de Meyer to investigate second-man Quinsy Gario’s behavior, which quickly led to his departure.

Laurens Dassen van Volt had to respond to the party conference in order to achieve fairness in the Nilufer Gundogan case.ANP . image

Whatever the different cases, a pattern can be discerned, also in the cases at stake in D66, Volt (both investigated by Bing’s office) and PvdA (Bezemer & Schubad’s office): the accused person has already left. Not voluntarily and the allegations remain vague because there is no definitive report or it has not been made public. Public condemnation without burden of proof.

Of course, each case stands separately. At D66, the pain is caused primarily by disregard for the party leadership and a strange double report, while Wohlt worries that as long as MP Gundogan does not cooperate in the investigation, the gravity of the complaints will never be clear. Something similar is happening now at the PvdA, now that Representative Van Dyck’s reporters on cross-border behavior have withdrawn their cooperation because they do not trust new party leader Etje Koiken. BIJ1 has never announced what the complaints against Gario consist of.

It is a very uncomfortable feeling when such out-of-control processes affect national politics. Because who are these integrity researchers? How honest are they themselves? Who supervises it?

Objections are regularly raised from a scientific angle. Ethics Police, i.e. qualified Michel de Vries, Professor of Administrative Integrity in Nijmegen. He’s fierce about the agencies’ working methods. There is no peer review, he says. Just like the principle that you are innocent until proven otherwise. They provide reports that only go to the client – in the above cases always the party board – who can determine what is happening with them: make it public or not. In his view, agencies are getting carried away in the political game. His suggestion: Offer support to both the victim and the accused, and make sure everyone involved has a lawyer. His colleague Galt de Graaf, Professor of Normative Public Administration, has demonstrated that there are no clear normative rules and frameworks for this type of research.

Wherever the word integrity is used, it quickly turns to nonsense. The research offices themselves understand this, too, as the website of Bureau Bezemer and Schubad, which promotes itself as the market leader in tackling undesirable behavior, attests: “An investigation of a complaint often serves as a divisive thing.”

to whom the act. More on integrity research here next week.

Temporary arrangement: Hummer identification can be improved.

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