Political intransparency continues in Maastricht-Hasselt lightrail plan

By Jurgen Vlaar

For more than a decade, the city council of Maastricht has been discussing the lightrail connection with the Belgian city of Hasselt. This week, during the council meeting of June 2nd, it became clear that most information surrounding this project the costs was still kept secret for the public. Meanwhile the struggles with working partners from outside the countries continue.

The so called tram-project between the Dutch city of Maastricht and the Belgium city of Hasselt has been ‘really muddy’ since 2008, according to many people in Maastricht. Multiple times it had to be delayed, the budget is continually going since the costs went from 185 million to over 300 million. Now there has been a lack of informing to the people which has been a real concern of the city council. They need to be better informed to move on swiftly say many member of the city council. Especially since the project has to be finished at the end of 2026 otherwise the subsidies from the Dutch national government would stop.

A couple months ago The Flemish newspaper: Het belang van Limburg published information that the costs for the light rail is going up by another 58 million euros which makes the total cost over 300 million. That’s a fact that the city council members of Maastricht weren’t aware of. The responsible alderman, Gert-Jan Krammedam has, according to the opposition parties, not even listened to the experts on this file. One of them said the following on the Krammedam’s way of working: “He makes choices based on emotions rather than the facts and while doing that he doesn’t even try to listen to us.” The lack of transparency needed to be discussed in the latest debate.

If the city government is indeed hiding critical information that could be possibly worrying since it’s in the law that aldermen should inform the council as much as possible. But there is a dispute in the Maastricht government on the interpretation of how much that actually is.

During this debate Krammedam stated the following: “My intent is to fulfil the information duty to the maximum. It’s just that not every single thing is being made public because that would mean that we are showing all are cards for the negotiations.” He further said that the reports of: Het Belang van Limburg were leaks and the information in the article isn’t accurate. He claimed that there will be an investigation into the matter.

“Talking behind closed doors to inform the people correctly is wrong”

The debate itself was split into two parts. One closed off part and one public part. Most of the opposition parties did not participate in the confidential part since that would be bad in the current context according to them. The opposition leader of Party Save Maastricht (SVM): Tiny Meese- van der Venne argued why she didn’t participate in the closed off part. “The people of Maastricht deserve to know more about this project and talking behind closed doors to inform the people correctly is wrong.”

The independent member Alexander Lurvink thinks this problem goes deeper. Claiming that it’s hard to get a clear few of the entire problem because the choices seem to be made through emotions instead of facts. He makes a comparison with the national government. Where there it leads to burnouts over there but in Maastricht people get paranoia. “The people of Maastricht have to watch this mess and eventually they would have to pay for it all. For them we are not a trustworthy partner because of this closed off government.”

The coalition parties shared their concerns and questions about the lack of transparency. But they have stated that the answer that Krammedam gave them during the closed off part is enough. They support the alderman’s effort to catch the leaker.

“We have different cultures in government”

The biggest difficulty with making a connection between two countries is that the border might look more open than it actually is. The Belgian minister of transport has said he was interested in making the tram a bus, something the Dutch government absolutely doesn’t want. The leader of the liberal party, Kitty Nuyts was speaking of “different cultures in government between the two countries.”

A member of a coalition party, Niels Peeters started the night out with lots of questions. They too shared their concern for the lack of transparency because of the negotiation with Belgium. But now he is pleased with what he heard in the closed meeting. He even thinks that Maastricht is better informed than his Flemish colleagues.

These types of tensions between different countries are not uncommon in Southern Limburg. Cities such as Valkenburg had trouble in the Covid crisis because the tourism sector from neighbouring countries is normally really big but since Covid hit the whole city had become a ghost town more or less according to an expert on Southern Limburg Hans Goossen. “It’s a weird dilemma for the people here, on the one hand they feel connected with the other countries. But in the end you see that the borders still create huge differences.”