Why I am in favour of district mergers
21 January 2009 – As a citizen of the Zeeburg District, I am in favour of merging districts into larger administrative entities. Below, I will explain my vision from a citizen’s perspective. My main arguments are: ‘citizens are not more politically involved in small districts’, ‘dual system fails because of weak council’, and ‘neither fish nor fowl’.
Citizens not more politically involved in small districts
Opponents of mergers often say that citizens would be more politically involved in small districts. However, the average citizen could not care less, but simply wants the district to be administered well. What matters, is for the administration and politicians to be knowledgeable of local issues. However, this does not require a small, but a good organisation. In a small district like Zeeburg, council members have such a high workload that they have no time to try to get in touch with citizens, if they were interested in the first place (leaving aside a few exceptions). A large district with a stronger council can inform itself of local issues in a professional manner, especially if the civil service remains decentralised, as proposed by Jan Beerenhout among others.
Dual system fails because of weak council
My main objection to small districts is that they contribute significantly to the failure of the dual system [the division between administration and council – Ed]. In this system, the council should direct and keep a check on the administrators. Currently, the council in weak districts is so weak – because of the fact that they have to do it all in their free time for a small remuneration – that the administration, supported by the civil service, is pulling all the strings. As a result, those who should implement the wishes of the council have become more or less autonomous, which was certainly not the intention of the dual system. In a larger district with a more professional council, this problem could at least be dealt with. This will not be achieved with an exhausted council in a small district.
Neither fish nor fowl
In addition, a small district faces the problem of being too far removed from the political powers when it regards centrally managed organisations such as the police (think of stop and search operations being introduced in the Indische buurt against the desire of the district), whereas it lacks the necessary professionalism when it regards important decentralised issues (social welfare). A larger district would be in a more powerful position and would therefore have easier access to the city council. In addition, a large district would be better equipped to deal with difficult issues because of its professionalism.
More risk of rulers in small district than in large district
Opponents of large districts point to the danger of creating a new ruling class. However, in a small district, where administrators often remain in their position for more than ten years, the risk of a ruling class is larger than in larger organisations that are more in the centre of attention. In the past, counts and barons also used to last longer in the Dutch countryside than in the city. This argument, which can be found at the website of PvdA politician Michael van der Vlis, is in my opinion not valid either.
More risk of favouritism and fishing in troubled waters because of weak council
Again, the weakness of a small council and the fact of not being in the centre of attention makes a small district more susceptible to favouritism and fishing in troubled waters. Simply because both media and council exercise less control. Of course, this does not imply any kind of judgement on the intrinsic integrity of the district administrators, especially in Zeeburg.
Finally, an important argument for abolishing Zeeburg in its present form is, in my view, that after all those years, there is almost no synergy among the three very different parts of the district: Indische Buurt, Oostelijk Havengebied and IJburg. In my view, IJburg could therefore be joined with the Zeeburgereiland in the future; the Oostelijk Havengebied could merge with Centrum, and the Indische Buurt with Oost-Watergraafsmeer. Because of the homogeneity of their urban issues, the resulting administrative unities could be administered a lot easier.
I hope this contribution will lead to a broader participation in the debate on the districts than only by the politicians who are directly affected.
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