Ploumen demands action on corruption in Benin

The Netherlands wants Benin to take more action to halt the embezzlement of Dutch development funds. Foreign trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen met with President Boni Yayi in Benin today to discuss a serious fraud case concerning millions of euros at the water ministry, which prompted the Netherlands to suspend development relations with Benin in May. ‘Fortunately, the government has acted swiftly on the matter,’ Ms Ploumen said. ‘They are on the right track, but they need to do more before we resume the aid programmes.’

An investigation earlier this year showed that €4 million in Dutch development aid had been embezzled at Benin’s water ministry. The Netherlands’ move to suspend development relations prompted an immediate response by the Beninese government. ‘Barthélémy Kassa, the minister responsible, was forced to step down, which is a first for Benin. An independent investigation has started and a number of officials have been arrested. But Benin must not stop there,’ the minister warned. ‘The perpetrators must be brought to justice and Benin must introduce a good financial control system. We also want the missing money to be recovered, so that it can be used as intended: to assist the people of Benin.’ President Yayi assured the minister that he would do everything necessary to restore relations with the Netherlands.

The Netherlands’ response to the embezzlement has ignited a lively public debate in Benin. The World Bank has also decided to suspend a 55 million dollar water project until the government has taken measures. ‘This has been a real shock for the government. And rightly so,’ Ms Ploumen said. ‘They’ve put development programmes at stake and the Beninese people are paying the price. It’s the people who benefit from programmes for clean drinking water and sanitation. We can’t allow aid money to be pocketed by dishonest characters.’ The Netherlands is the largest donor in Benin in the area of water. The PPEAII programme is worth around €70 million in total (€50 million donated by the Netherlands, €20m by the EU).

The Netherlands has also suspended development programmes in the areas of food security and sexual and reproductive health and rights. In 2014 these programmes totalled over €22 million, and €21 million has been budgeted for this year. The Netherlands’ support to various civil society organisations in Benin has not been suspended. The minister explained that ‘the aim of suspending programmes is to punish the swindlers, but we want to continue helping the people of Benin as much as possible. But we’ll avoid working with the government until it proves itself a reliable partner. I’m glad to say they’ve taken steps to this end.’