PM Rutte says he "never deliberately" withheld info by deleting text messages
Prime Minister Mark Rutte says he "never deliberately" withheld important information by deciding himself which of his text messages should be kept and which not. The Prime Minister called his method of deleting messages "in accordance with agreements" and does not see it as a violation of the law.
Rutte said that he did not keep all his correspondence because, until recently, he worked with an old Nokia phone. "I'm not a big fan of smartphones," the Prime Minister said. He finds typing messages on a touch screen "disastrous" and prefers to compose text messages with the number keys like on older phones.
The downside was that his old device couldn't handle thousands of stored messages. "It gets slow after a while." Rutte, therefore, forwarded messages that he considered important enough to an official at his Ministry, who ensured that they were preserved. He deleted the rest without consulting others about it.
No officials were involved. "That's not how the guideline works," said Rutte. The Prime Minister acknowledged that mistakes could be made in this way. But he said he never knowingly deleted messages that he did not want to surface in a request for information through the Open Government (Public Access) Act.
Rutte now has a smartphone because, during a recent visit to the United States, it turned out that his old Nokia no longer worked on the networks there. This eliminates the need for him to clear up his chat history. "Now that is no longer necessary because messages can be stored on a smartphone without slowing the thing down."
Rutte said he wouldn't mind at all if all the text messages he deleted could be retrieved through the provider. But that doesn't mean he will make them public afterward, he emphasized.
Opposition parties in parliament were very critical of Rutte's methods. "The actions of those in power must be transparent and verifiable,' said PvdA leader Attje Kuiken on Twitter. "By destroying his correspondence for years, Rutte has made himself un-checkable. That is bad and undermines democracy."
"This is the behavior of a Prime Minister who is frantically trying to prevent any openness," said GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver. "Possibly against the law." He wants to debate the matter and said all efforts should be made to retrieve the deleted texts via the provider. Parliamentarian Wybren van Haga also thinks Rutte has broken the law and called for an "urgent debate."
According to SP leader Lilian Marijnissen, the Council of State "has made a clear ruling that text messages from Ministers must be available. And, of course, it is not okay that you select what is and what is not available. That is not up to him."
DENK MP Steaphan van Baarle spoke of a dubious state of affairs. "Mark Rutte, therefore, determined which of Mark Rutte's correspondence was important enough to keep and what can be made public." He also wants to discuss this with the Prime Minister in a debate.