Ministers Melanie Schultz (l) and Wilma Mansveld during the debate: Photo: Novum
Transport minister Melanie Schultz and her deputy Wilma Mansveld survived a stormy debate on the crisis on the Dutch railways on Thursday evening, taking the unusual step of publically slating their civil servants in the process.
Mansveld had been called to parliament to explain why the department had not gone public with a highly criticial report on maintenance standards on the Dutch railway network.
The Volkskrant newspaper used freedom of information legislation to access the transport inspectors’ report, which states ProRail has accepted such cheap tenders for rail maintenance that extra delays and accidents may be inevitable.
During the debate, Mansveld told MPs civil servants had failed to carry out Schultz’ instructions to send the report to parliament in September this year. Schultz, transport minister in the previous government, was in charge of the railways at the time.
When Mansveld took over in October, she was unaware the report existed, the junior minister said. This is why she told parliament similar complaints by rail maintenance firm Strukton about rail maintenance contracts were ‘without foundation and premature’.
The ministers are now considering taking disciplinary action against the civil servants involved.
According to Volkskrant commentator Raoul du Pré, there is now a ‘serious breach of trust’ between ministers and sections of the civil service.
In addition, a public dispute between ministers and officials is extremely rare in the Netherlands, he said.
The ministers have said they will come up with an action plan to restore order to the transport ministry by April 1.
The Dutch railway network is owned by the state, with NS responsible for passenger services and ProRail for the tracks. Strukton used to be owned by the NS but is now in private hands.