Rutte's lack of transparency a pattern, opposition says in deleted texts debate
GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver accused Prime Minister Mark Rutte of not paying enough attention to transparency even though he previously promised improvement on that front. "It's a pattern, and that's why we're here today to debate," the GroenLinks leader said in a parliamentary debate about the text messages Rutte deleted for years. Klaver requested the debate. Other opposition parties also spoke of a pattern.
Klaver pointed out that Rutte promised to be more transparent due to the childcare allowance scandal. "That the Tweede Kamer [the lower house of the Dutch parliament] can also do its job, that journalists can do their job." According to the GroenLinks leader, nothing has come of it. He connected it with earlier moments when Rutte, in his opinion, kept things under wraps around the dividend tax, the Teeven deal, the bombing of Hawija, and his comments about parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt and "function elsewhere" during the Cabinet formation talks.
On Wednesday, the Volkskrant revealed that Rutte had deleted messages from his phone for years. Rutte said he only did so because his old Nokia phone couldn't store many messages, that he forwarded messages he considered important to an official for archiving, and that he followed the rules drawn up by the government itself.
During his years as Prime Minister, Rutte often said he didn't remember crucial things and made mistakes on various fronts, the opposition said. But he always gets away with it thanks to the coalition.
The opposition is furious that Rutte is continuously not taking the Tweede Kamer's controlling function and the transparency of government actions seriously. The opposition is fed up and thinks this really needs to come to an end now. "It is time we set boundaries and say to this Prime Minister: stop it now," said Farid Azarkan of DENK. Rutte must end this behavior, according to a large part of the opposition.
According to the coalition party CDA, the question is whether Rutte's actions were in accordance with the spirit of the law, even if the letter of the law says he didn't do anything wrong. "I don't think the Prime Minister using a telephone from the last century is against the letter of the law. He could even put the phone with the texts in the copier and print it out to archive it," CDA parliamentarian Henri Bontenbal said. "It is also about the spirit of the law: that it must be well ordered, that it must be easily searchable."
Bontenbal asked Rutte whether he realized he has an exemplary function for the civil servants who work for the government. He doesn't think Rutte should have saved everything per se. "There is a selection taking place somewhere," the CDA parliamentarian said. But "isn't it vulnerable if the Prime Minister makes that selection himself?"
Rutte's own party, the VVD, supported him. "I see no pattern of untruths," MP Ulysse Ellian said in the debate. "I assume that he acted with care and integrity." Ellian denounced the opposition's attitude, assuming from the get-go that Rutte was lying before he had time to defend himself. According to Ellian, Rutte complied with the guideline.
The opposition finds it incomprehensible that the VVD continues to protect the Prime Minister. PVV leader Geert Wilders wanted to know from the VVD MP how far Rutte had to go before it was too far. For Wilders, it is clear: "Get out."
The other two coalition parties, D66 and ChristenUnie, think that the rules for storing and archiving text messages need tightening up. "They must be clear and enforceable," said D66 parliamentarian Joost Sneller. In his opinion, a Minister must not decide for himself which text messages to delete and which to keep.
Because it is also possible to evade stricter rules, "Ministers must also do everything they can to be open and transparent in order to regain trust and enable control over power," said ChristenUnie MP Stieneke van der Graaf. According to her, Rutte's way of handling his texts did not contribute to trust in the government.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times