Dutch water board elections are a lukewarm affair, with a traditionally low turnout. We get to vote again next Wednesday, but the prospect leaves the electorate cold. Get rid of the boards? No, says professor of Public Administration Katrien Termeer.
The decisions taken by water boards are far too important, says Termeer, to be left to technocrats. ‘So democratic checks and balances are a must. But the problem is that hardly anyone knows what water boards do. People have no idea what the election issues are.’
So what is the point of elections then?
‘I am not so fatalistic as to say: just get rid of them. Somehow or another they need to be firmly embedded in the democracy. But clearly elections are not working as the instrument for that embedding. However appealing the election slogan ‘swim or vote’, it’s not going to lead to more meaningful elections.’
Could the solution lie in bringing the water boards under the provincial councils?
‘I don’t know whether that’s such a good idea. The water boards are functioning well. Why would you change something that is working well and merge it into something else? Perhaps we should turn it around and bring the provincial councils under the water boards. My experience is that water board directors are very well connected in the region. If you get rid of them, how are you going to create that connection?
Is there a single water board issue that interests the average person on the street?
‘Coping with climate change. It leads to both drought and floods. For both of which, water boards are crucial. How are you going to share the burden of a water shortage or surplus? And do you prioritize farming or nature? It’s all about how you go about balancing those interests. So don’t scrap them, but come up with alternatives to elections that don’t mean anything to anyone. That’s the way to go to find the solution.