Rutte fiercely criticized in debate on allowance scandal; Admits responsiblity
Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte was forced to rectify the idea that he was trying to avoid responsibility in the childcare allowance scandal during a debate on the affair and the Rutte III Cabinet's resignation. "Of course I was always directly responsible. I will not run way from that," he said in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, on Tuesday, NU.nl and NOS report.
Opposition parties SP, PVV, PvdA, and GroenLinks, and coalition party D66 all wanted Rutte to explain how in his 10 years as Prime Minister, he let things get this far. The Kamer was very critical of its own role in this scandal, but mainly focused on statements Rutte made in a press conference on Friday. While announcing the Rutte III government's resignation, Rutte said that he had no direct "involvement in this file". In the debate, Rutte stuck to the line that he only became directly involved in the summer of 2019, when it became clear how serious this affair was.
GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver denounced Rutte's defense that he is responsible, but was not involved. "He was indeed involved," Klaver said. "You are not a spectator, you are the main character."
PVV leader Geert Wilders called it incomprehensible that Rutte won't step back as VVD leader, as Lodewijk Asscher did at the PvdA. "The Prime Minister pops up everywhere," he said. You destroyed tens of thousands of lives, people have gone bankrupt because of debts. And after the elections you will just continue in politics again, with your apple and your bicycle. That cannot be explained, can it?"
D66 leader Rob Jetten also thinks Rutte's defense falls flat. The illegal fraud witch hunt was aimed in particular at Dutch citizens with dual nationality and racist and discriminatory statements were made by the Tax Authority, he said. According to Jetten, this witch hunt started in a political climate where citizens who ask for support from the government were dismissed by the VVD as profiteers and Dutch people with roots in another country were automatically considered suspicious.
Jetten also pointed out that Rutte was not only the chairman of the ministerial anti-fraud committee that started this witch hunt, but was also convicted by a judge in 2007 for inciting racial discrimination as a State Secretary. Jetten also referred to statements Rutte made about the "dumping of Antillean", and telling young Dutch-Turks to "fuck off" back to Turkey in 2016.
"Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that his fingerprints are all over the allowance file?" Jetten wanted to know.
Rutte disputed the suggestion that his statements directly resulted in racism and discrimination at the Tax Authority. But where in the past he always dodged questions about institutional racism in the Netherlands, he couldn't ignore it in Tuesday's debate, according to NU.nl. "There will certainly be institutional racism in the Netherlands." He said that his harsh tone and the extra attention to the fight against fraud in 2013 and 2014 could have led to Tax officials thinking that they could go further than they actually could.
But according to Rutte, the cabinet already took the ultimate political responsibility by resigning. And whether he continues as VVD leader is not up to the Kamer, he said. He called the childcare allowance scandal, like the slow handling of earthquake damage in Groningen, a stain on his career as Prime Minister so far. "But a lot of things also went well in those ten years. The Netherlands is in good shape," he said.
In the childcare allowance affair, thousands of parents ended up in serious financial problems after the Tax Authority wrongly labeled them fraudsters and ordered them to repay their childcare allowance. In some cases this involved tens of thousands of euros. The Tax Authority used ethnic profiling in its witch hunt, with dual-nationality being one of the criteria with which potential fraudsters were selected.
In December, a parliamentary committee of inquiry presented a report stating that the involved parents faced unprecedented amounts of injustice. This report led to the Rutte III Cabinet's resignation on Friday.
The victims in this affair will all get at least 30 thousand euros in compensation. Earlier this week State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen of Finance announced that the cabinet is also scrapping all the victims' government debts, so that the compensation does not go to paying outstanding tax debts, but towards starting fresh. She said she was also in talks with private creditors about scrapping the victims' debts.