THE HAGUE — On January 15, the Dutch government collectively resigned after an official report said officials were involved in the child benefit scandal that spanned from 2013 to 2019, DutchNews reported. The document showed that ministers, civil servants, parliament, and judges were all complicit in the wrongful accusations of fraud leveled against thousands of families in those six years.
The cabinet led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte since 2017 decided to take responsibility for the scandal and abdicate as a group to display “common responsibility,” according to CNBC.
“With today’s decision, the cabinet wants to do justice to all those parents who have been wronged unprecedentedly,” outgoing Rutte said in a statement.
An investigation in December revealed that tax officials falsely accused anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 families of defrauding the tax office. The families who fell victim were forced to repay the childcare benefits in full, putting many in financial jeopardy.
Dutch legislators described the affair as an “unprecedented injustice.”
According to MP Pieter Omtzigt of the Christian Democratic Appeal, tax agencies violated four or five laws with the child benefit scandal. However, “the holes in the law meant that if you made a minor mistake the tax agency said you had to repay everything”.
He also said that such errors are quite common because the forms are “very difficult to fill in”.
Opposition leader Lodewijk Asscher, social affairs minister at the time of the scandal, had resigned the day before the cabinet’s mass exodus, which pundits said presaged the government collapse.
Rutte had previously said that a government resignation would be a disservice to the Netherlands’ fight against the pandemic, CNBC reported citing Politico.
According to DutchNews.nl, other party leaders, including Sigrid Kaag of Democrats 66 party said the “political consequences” of the investigation are inescapable.
Lilian Marijnissen, leader of the Socialist Party also said, “This is not the end, but the beginning.”
Omtzigt noted there are still many questions unanswered by the Dutch government, primarily why tens and thousands of families were wrongly implicated for so many years. Another concern is how the state will make restitution for the families.
“The other question is how we are going to set things straight for these parents, some of whom have been evicted from their homes, had divorces and lost their jobs over it,” Omtzigt said. “Quite a few lives have been ruined.”
In his statement, Rutte added that the Dutch government will continue to lead the COVID-19 emergency response in a caretaker capacity until the March 17, 2021 general election. The outgoing administration, however, will not be able to make decisions that the upper and lower houses of parliament consider “controversial.”
The country is currently in national lockdown. According to figures from John Hopkins University, the Netherlands has had almost 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 13,000 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.
The collapse of Rutte’s cabinet was not the first time a Dutch government had resigned en masse, according to CNBC.
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