Dutch PM "shed a tear" when apologizing for unjust halting of childcare allowance
Prime Minister Mark Rutte met with a group of 200 parents who were unjustly labeled fraudsters by the Tax Authority and had their childcare allowance halted as a result. During the emotional meeting, Rutte apologized for the Tax Authority's actions in this affair and listened to parents' stories. Some stories made him shed a tear, he said after the meeting, NU.nl reports.
"Here the rule of law is supposed to protect the citizen against the omnipotence of the state, here things really went very wrong in cases," Rutte said. "What what this has done to the personal lives of these people, no normal person would have dry eyes."
Rutte said that during his time as Prime Minister there have been two major incidents that made a massive impact - the downing of flight MH17 and the gas extraction earthquakes in Groningen. "This is starting to come close," he said. "Trust in the government has been severely damaged. This meeting is not going to restore that. I may not restore that trust in me in one meeting either. That is not the goal, the goal is to start listening and show how we are trying to help the case from here."
This affair revolves around the unlawful termination of hundreds of parents' childcare allowance. The parents were wrongfully labeled as fraudsters and were ordered to repay allowances, sometimes running up to tens of thousands of euros. There are suspicions that investigators used ethnic profiling - at one daycare in Eindhoven, parents whose allowance was halted almost exclusively had a second nationality.
The committee that investigated this affair concluded that the Tax Authority's fraud approach derailed and that it caused much suffering. The National Ombudsman said that the Tax Authority put hundreds of families in an impossible situation. And the Children's Ombudsman accused the Tax Authority of ignoring children's rights.
A large part of the parents of who it is certain that their allowances were unjustly halted, have received compensation. But the group of victims may be much larger. The Donner Committee is looking into the around 9 thousand cases of child care allowances being halted by the Tax Authority department for detecting fraud, to see how many of these parents were actually committing fraud and how many are entitled to compensation.
To these parents still living in uncertainty, Rutte could provide no clarity on Monday. He expects that it will take at least another year - and maybe longer - before the problems of all the victims have been resolved.
After the meeting on Monday, parents told NU.nl that they appreciated the recognition that they had been wrongly labeled as fraudsters, but still have many questions. "There were mainly many questions and few answers," 33-year-old Debby said to the newspaper. She is struggling with a debt of more than 48 thousand euros that she has to pay back. But she is happy she went to the meeting. "I am particularly happy that I could talk to other parents who have been affected. To share experiences and to hear that you are not crazy."
Naciye, a mother of three, called the conversation with Rutte pleasant. "It's nice to finally be heard," she said. But she has lost faith in the government. She has 80 thousand euros in debts she acquired when she suddenly had to come up with ways to pay for her children's childcare herself. "I have lost my businesses, my health started to suffer, I felt rejected. I tried to take my own life twice."
Through the recently resigned State Secretary of Finance Menno Snel, the government has apologized for the actions of the Tax Authority in the childcare allowance debacle on multiple occasions. The affair cost Snel his position last month.
The government announced a reorganization of the Tax Authority and will place not one, but two State Secretaries over it. The new State Secretary wo will be responsible for the allowances, will immediately start working on a proposal to change the allowance system. Though that plan will only be addressed in the new government formation. The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, will debate the reorganization plans on Tuesday.