Ministry ignored reports of Groningen earthquake damage problems for years: report
The Ministry of Economic Affairs ignored signals and reports that there were many problems with Centrum Veilig Wonen (CVW) - the company responsible for reinforcing homes in Groningen against fracking earthquakes - for years. The then National Coordinator for Groningen Hans Alders warned the Ministry that the company was not complying with agreements, and that Groningen residents were the victims of this, in the summer of 2017. But the Ministry claims that it only became aware of the problems in May 2019, RTV Noord reports based on an email exchange between Alders and the Ministry, and statements from Minister Eric Wiebes and his Ministry.
In July 2017, Alders warned top officials at the Ministry of Economic Affairs that there were problems at CVW, run and managed by gas company NAM. The CWV "lost" a thousand inspections, and could not give any insight into which Groningen homes have and have not been inspected. He also warned of NAM's influence in this operation. "We have found by chance that NAM has removed a number of inspected homes from the program, because it is of the opinion that certain cases are senseless or are not covered by their liability. This is done unilaterally without the [National Coordinator Groningen] being informed. Let alone that the agreements made with the residents concerned are respected," Alders said, according to the broadcaster.
A few months later, Alders again warned that agreements about reinforcement were not being met. Groningen residents who had their homes inspected in 2016, still hadn't received any reports or advice on how their homes should be reinforced so that they will be safe in earthquakes more than a year later. Alders said that NAM appears to be deliberately "stalling and postponing" so that "as little as possible has to be done" and "costs are saved".
In the autumn last year, Minister Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate gave an interview to RTV Noord in which he called CVW a "colossal disgrace" for not complying with agreements. He said the Ministry only became aware of the problems in May 2019 and that the problems were a "complete surprise". He called CVW a "black box", according to the broadcaster. "We could not get in, didn't know the numbers, and we didn't know exactly what was happening there. That was really the NAM," he said.
In a written response, the Ministry now told the broadcaster that "there were earlier signals from the region that things were not going well", but that these signals were "difficult to prove". "You really want to get that with hard facts and figures," the Ministry said. The Ministry said that the facts were not "black on white" until May 2019, and that Alders' reports were difficult to prove because there were - sometimes conflicting - reports from other organizations in the region. A spokesperson also said that "it sometimes takes a while in The Hague for signals to really penetrate," according to the broadcaster.
Parliamentarians are flabbergasted and want an explanation from Wiebes. "If this is correct, then it is very ugly. This requires an explanation from the Minster to the Tweede Kamer [the lower house of Dutch parliament] this week," CDA parliamentarian Agnes Mulder said to the broadcaster.
"Outrageous," said SP parliamentarian Sandra Beckerman, who comes from Groningen. "This is what the government does on everything. They always say they did not know and have no memories of it, while they are responsible for our safety. They have put them at risk for years and afterwards they say we didn't know. That is impossible."
PvdA MP Henk Nijboer told the broadcaster that he is not surprised. "It had been known in Groningen for years that things were not at all going well at CVW. The NAM also constantly stalled and counteracted the settlement claims. A shameful display. Wiebes and his Ministry knew about this. So it is totally unbelievable that he said he was surprised last year. The only sentence that is correct in [the Ministry's] response is this: 'that sometimes it takes a while in The Hague for signals to really penetrate'. We see that again and again."