Finance Ministry had "signal" that critical memo in allowance scandal was made to disappear
The Ministry of Finance received a "signal" that a critical memo on the childcare allowance scandal may have been deliberately misplaced, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance confirmed to Dutch media.
On Friday, RTL Nieuws and Trouw reported that two top officials from the Ministry and the Tax Authority lied under oath about knowing about this memo, which was written by top lawyer Sandra Palmen in 2017. The memo then already stated that the cancellation of some 300 parents' childcare allowance was unlawful, and that they should be compensated. The memo was again discussed in a meeting at the Ministry of Finance in 2019, which the two top officials attended. But when questioned about the memo by a parliamentary committee of inquiry, they could not remember the memo.
According to RTL and Trouw, at the 2019 meeting lower officials suggested that the memo not be filed, which would result in it not coming up in any future questions from parliament or appeals to the Open Government Act. The top officials did not object to this breaking of the rules. The memo came to light by chance in October 2020, after questions by then CDA parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt.
Before the report on Friday, the Ministry of Finance said it received "no signals" of the proposal to not file the memo. Later the same day, after the RTL and Trouw publication, a signal surfaced, a spokesperson for caretaker State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen of Allowances said to NU.nl. The Ministry shared this signal with the forensic experts at accountancy firm PwC, which is currently doing an independent investigation into the course of events in the scandal. "While PwC's investigation is ongoing, we are not conducting any additional investigations of our own. We are therefore unable to determine at the moment at which official level this message ended up."
Parliamentarians Renske Leijten of SP and Henk Nijboer of PvdA demanded on Sunday evening that all information about the disappearance of this memo be put "immediately" on the table. According to Leijten, it is "now important that all documents and indications that the Ministry has that the Palmen memo was deliberately withheld come to parliament."
Nijboer said on Twitter that the PwC investigation is "not a license" for the cabinet not to share this information with the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament. "I want to receive the documents that have surfaced from the State Secretary today," he tweeted on Sunday evening. "The Kamer goes before PwC."
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. The Rutte III cabinet collapsed in the aftermath of this report. Though most of the Ministers remained in office in a caretaker capacity, to deal with current and urgent issues like the coronavirus pandemic. The Rutte III cabinet is still in office, awaiting the formation of a new cabinet after the parliamentary elections in March.