STRANGER THAN FICTION (21 february 2004)
I like reading fiction. But when I read the news, I sometimes wonder why I read fiction at all.
A long time ago when I was a student, I worked in a factory. A fellow-worker did something that damaged a machine badly. He was sacked and could go looking for another job. In the newspapers I read that a Dutch senior official wasted millions of euros by having part of the building that housed his office stripped and replaced by very expensive materials. Is he sacked and can he go looking for another job? On the television, I hear other senior officials say he will receive a bonus of a few million euros.
A president and a prime minister wage war against a country. They say this country has weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons are found. The president and prime minister are still in power.
European countries sign a contract in which they agree their debt will be no greater than three percent. Two big countries exceed this percentage generously. A Dutch minister protests loudly. After a while it becomes clear the Dutch national debt will exceed three percent as well. Does the minister say Sorry? The newspapers say the minister intends to economize, especially at the expense of the lowest paid people. Thus the deficit will be within the limits agreed upon and the minister will be right.
The Dutch principal prosecutor of big crime, the main crime fighter in the Netherlands, is threatened by the criminals he fights. They threaten to kill him. His employers say "Sorry, your problems are not as big as you suggest. Besides, we can't defend you." The prosecutor resigns.
In Europe, competitors are not allowed to make agreements about the prices they charge. So what do Dutch building companies do when they are invited to hand in estimates for big building projects? Yes, you've guessed right: they make agreements so their prices are many millions of euros higher than what such projects should cost.
Stranger than fiction - don't you agree?