Billions wrongfully spent on medical protective equipment, court says
Dutch Ministry of Health may have wrongfully spent 5.1 billion euros in taxpayer money on coronavirus materials such as face masks, respirators and coronavirus testing material, the country's Court of Audit warned. The organization warned that a total of 9.1 billion euros was spent carelessly.
The largest bulk of that amount was attributed to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. In one of its opinions released on Wednesday, the institution stated that "financial management was below the required level" during the ministry's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
For example, it is not clear whether all the purchased coronavirus tests that the government paid for have been delivered. Additionally, there was a lack of controls regarding respiratory equipment, which has may have disappeared as receipts for their delivery to healthcare institutions are largely missing.
The court spoke of a "serious deficiency" after examining annual spending figures from last year. It placed blame largely on Health Minister Hugo de Jonge and Wopke Hoekstra, the Minister of Finance. For the latter, it argued that Hoekstra "failed in his role as supervisor" of the Cabinet spending, with the Council of Ministers frequently approving massive amounts of spending without Hoekstra's explicit authorization.
It already became clear in September 2020 that the financial management was showing major shortcomings in the fight against the pandemic, but the government only first started working hard to get a grip on expenditure earlier this year. The personal protective equipment, medical devices and supplies, and coronavirus test materials which were to be stocked in warehouses for emergency use, according to a letter caretaker Medical Care Minister Tamara van Ark sent to the Tweede Kamer in April.
She then drew up an improvement plan, which has also been approved by the audit office.
Separately, major flaws have also been discovered at other ministries such as the Ministry of Defense. The regulatory body stated the ministry’s property such as barracks, offices and training areas were in great need of maintenance. According to the Court of Audit, steps needed to be taken to ensure the safety of the personnel.
The tolerance limit of 1 percent for errors and unforeseen expenses set by the Court of Audit has therefore been exceeded for the first time since 2008, when the country was facing the effects of the global financial crisis, the court wrote.