On Friday, four days before the government was due to present its 2009 spending plans, copies of finance minister Wouter Bos’ speech and all the individual ministries’ budgets were handed under conditions of strict secrecy.
The were given to journalists, MPs, political parties and lobby groups. In return, the recipients had to promise to keep the information to themselves until Tuesday afternoon.
The idea is to give the media time to put together massive budget supplements, and MPs and lobby groups the opportunity to work out their reactions.
Today (Monday), for example, the FNV trade union federation is holding a news conference on its reactions to the budget (under embargo). In this scenario, everyone seems to know what is going on except the public.
But on Saturday, in the best tradition of investigative journalism, the NRC Handelsblad published a number of details from the budget. The paper got its scoop by using its own political sources because it had refused to sign the traditional embargo.
Parts of the budget are leaked every year and sometimes ministers themselves inform the press about controversial items so they can gauge public opinion and make last minute changes.
The NRC is right to show up the whole Prinsjesdag farce for what it is.
From the queen’s arrival at parliament in her golden coach to the finance minister waving his briefcase, the presentation of the budget on the third Tuesday of September is nothing more than a carefully-orchestrated show.
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