Legality concerns over €15.5 billion in gov't spending last year; Third year of shortcomings
The Court of Audit raised doubts about the legitimacy of 15.5 billion euros in commitments (promised expenditures) the national government entered into last year. According to the Court of Audit, it is uncertain whether the government adhered to the applicable rules with these obligations. The Court of Audit called it "worrying" that the Cabinet has crossed the line for the third year in a row. According to the regulator, the Cabinet can no longer hide behind crisis measures.
Apart from the purchase of ABN Amro in 2008, this is the largest amount of potentially unlawful obligations in the Netherlands' history.
The lack of clarity about the legality of actual expenditure went just over the permitted limit of 1 percent. According to the Court of Audit's standards, 99 percent of government expenditure and obligations must be entered with the certainty that all applicable rules were adhered to. For the third year in a row, the government failed to achieve this target.
"The ice is thin, sometimes too thin. And it has not always been possible to skate quickly over the weak spots," said the Court of Audit. The regulator supervises how the government spends taxpayers' money, mainly looking at how economic, sensible, and careful expenditure and obligations are.
In 2020, The Ministry of Public Health, Welfare, and Sports was the Court of Audit's biggest concern. It had doubts about the legality of several billion euros of the Ministry's expenditure and obligations. The problems at that department "have diminished, both in absolute numbers and proportionality." But the Court of Audit still spoke of "a serious shortcoming" in its accountability audit. The legality of "a significant part of the expenditure incurred by the Ministry and the obligations it entered into" has not yet been established.
The Ministry of Defense was another source of concern last year, with "persistent problems" related to its property, procurement, and ammunition management. The Cabinet needs to make better choices with the extra budget released for Defense in the coming years. Otherwise, it could have "consequences for the deployment of the armed forces," the Court of Audit said.
Last year, the Court of Audit found 1.3 billion euros worth of errors and uncertainties at Defense. For example, the Ministry often invited only one supplier for tenders, which means it couldn't purchase at a good price-quality ratio. Therefore, the Court of Audit advised the Ministry to pay "special attention" to its purchasing management. The maintenance of Defense real estate also fell short in recent years. Last year, the maintenance budget proved insufficient, while it is essential that "Defense buildings and sites provide a safe working and living environment."
The Court of Audit also noted that military personnel experience "administrative burdens" when handling ammunition after exercises. To avoid these burdens, soldiers kick leftover ammunition into the ground or fire the cartridges. Despite the steps the Ministry took in recent years, the situation has not improved. The Court of Audit also sees problems with the monitoring of ammunition stock.
Reporting by ANP