ANPDemissionary Prime Minister Rutte at the parliamentary inquiry committee
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 20:15
Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte contradicts the image that fraud with benefits and allowances was a major theme surrounding the formation of his first two cabinets. Although the Ministry of Social Affairs was instructed by the Rutte I cabinet in 2010 to make savings of 180 million euros in combating fraud, this was “negligible” in the grand scheme of things.
Rutte said this during his second interrogation by the parliamentary inquiry committee about his time as Prime Minister. “We are now of course looking through a straw at fraud,” Rutte said. But he cannot remember that this was considered so important during coalition negotiations. It was not discussed extensively later in the Council of Ministers, Rutte said.
The Prime Minister recalled that around that time (2010-2012) 51 billion euros had to be cut. “The economy was turning around.” The fact that the ministry said it could not raise the requested amount by tackling fraud was not unusual, according to Rutte. It often happened that departments “pushed back” when they heard how much savings needed to be made.
Everything or nothing
In previous interrogations, former top officials stated that they had experienced great pressure from politicians to tackle fraud and abuse with benefits and allowances more forcefully. The budget cuts are said to have played an important role in this, in addition to the sentiment that there was a lot of cheating.
But Rutte said he does not believe that the imposed cuts were decisive in “the drama” surrounding the childcare allowance. According to him, what was more important was the all-or-nothing approach of the Tax Authorities, which stipulated that people lost their entire allowance for the smallest mistakes and had to repay advances.
He called it “idiotic” that it happened that way. And according to Rutte, the fact that it happened was mainly due to “the implementation”, who felt no room to act proportionately.
Wrong zip code
Earlier today, former administrative judge Roeland Cooijmans attended the committee. He explained how Rotterdam judges followed their own course that was diametrically opposed to the “all-or-nothing” approach of the Tax Authorities.
Cooijmans and his colleagues found the full refunds of sometimes tens of thousands of euros to be “not reasonable” and “not proportionate”, especially because it often concerned a minor shortcoming that had sometimes been completed years earlier, such as an incorrect zip code, date of birth or the lack of an hourly rate . In all the cases he handled at the time, Cooijmans never encountered fraud.
According to the former administrative judge, the strict way in which the Childcare Act was interpreted was incorrect. Cooijmans therefore agreed with the parents for a long time, but the case went to the higher Council of State. He sided with the government, to the “great disappointment” of Cooijmans. Only years later did the highest administrative court abandon the coercive line. Too late, according to the Council of State, which already apologized for this two years ago.
Rutte was also at the committee of inquiry a month ago, due to his position as State Secretary for Social Affairs from 2002 to 2004. During that first interrogation he argued that a tougher approach to fraud was logical at the time.
Rutte then said, among other things, that the tightening was a consequence of the policy that had been implemented for this purpose. “I picked up what was there. Fraud was a serious problem when I took office.” He did not have concrete figures on how big the problem was. Rutte called the signals “anecdotal”, but also “serious”.
It is the last week of the hearings of the committee of inquiry. Tomorrow the chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority, Aleid Wolfsen, will be discussed first. Finally, National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen is interrogated. After the hearings, the committee will work on the final report. It is not yet known when that will be finished.