The De Wit report: Pointing fingers – What the papers say

The SP’s Jan de Wit, who headed the parliamentary inquiry into the handling of the 2008 credit crisis, has come to some tough conclusions. What the papers say.

According to the De Wit report nobody had a clue, not Wouter Bos, not the banks and not parliament, writes the Volkskrant.
Honest Rita Verdonk
It turns out that the only person who was actually honest when the 2008 bailout plans for ABN Amro were being discussed was former MP Rita Verdonk, of Trots op Nederlands (Proud of the Netherlands). She refused to support an operation that was based on a need-to-know-very-little basis. ‘I don’t understand’, she said. Nobody did, writes the paper, only they couldn’t be bothered to find out exactly what was happening.
Most important finding and one that lessons should be learnt from: ‘Bos made mistakes but the whole system around him – the Dutch national Bank, the European Commission – didn’t have an adequate response, reacted too late and sometimes failed completely. No one is getting off scot free’, the paper concludes.
Bos national hero
Volkskrant columnist Bert Wagendorp hones in on former finance minister Wouter Bos. ‘Bos was a national hero. He came back triumphant, having wrested Fortis from the hands of the Belgians, after a cunning trade-off that left them with the useless bits’, he writes. ‘It was a miracle we didn’t put him in a boat and paraded him around the canals of Amsterdam as the Bert van Marwijk of the financial markets.
Even the financial experts were taken in, he writes. The 16.8bn Bos forked out? A bargain, according to Sylvester Eijfiinger, professor of Financial Economics at Tilburg (!) University. ‘Hats off to Bos, the professor wrote, that was a clever piece of work.’
‘It turns out he paid at least 4bn too much. Jan de Wit calculated that the amount bore little relation to the actual economic value. The Belgians put one over on us!’, writes Wagendorp.
The Financieele Dagblad feels that the report is signalling a change towards banks. ‘Banks have always had an air of secrecy about them. Information was very dangerous. The thinking was that discussing problems in public might create a run of the bank. Bankers didn’t have anybody looking over their shoulder and that’s the way they liked it’, the paper writes.
But no more. Tax payers the world over want to know why they have had to cough up incredible amounts of money to keep the banks from collapsing when all was sweetness and light not long before. The time for lazy politicians is past. They will be much more critical of the bank’s doings, says the paper.
According to the FD, that is were the reports main importance lies. The banking sector itself is already getting used to more transparency and now it’s the politicians turn. And they’re already learning, says the paper, because they have been much tougher during the euro crisis. How many Greek bonds exactly, they wanted to know. And on a national level: we want to know on what grounds you are giving people on a low income a mortgage, the paper writes. Before the banks didn’t have to tell anyone. Now financial services watchdog AFM is making them.
No more gentleman’s agreements behind closed doors, rejoices FD. The AFM may even tell savers how safe their bank is. Whether or not all the committee’s recommendations will be implemented, banks will definitely come under increased public scrutiny, FD concludes.
In a comment by the magazine’s Syp Wynia, Elsevier remarks that with so many people making mistakes it’s hard to apportion blame. ‘But now that this parliamentary inquiry is behind us, why not go on to the next?, Wynia writes. ‘Then the tax payer had to save the banks, now the same tax payer is having to save countries. And the end is not in sight. So why not have a parliamentary inquiry into the billions lost during those financial operations. So we can learn from the mistakes now and not afterwards’, he concludes.
20-20 hindsight
NRC gives the editorial spot to the De Wit report. Without wanting to make light of the results of the committee’s findings – an amount of €30bn was involved after all and keeping information from parliament is reprehensible– the paper writes that hindsight is always 20-20.
‘The financial system was about to collapse and the consequences for the economy and society would have been devastating. Decisions had to be made, often on the spot and without sufficient information. The nature of the crisis also meant that any mistake automatically ran into billions of euros’, the paper writes.
‘The committee is right to say the authorities did not know how big the potential risks were going to be, including those involved with the ABN Amro take-over that preceded the crisis. (..) The emergency measures that had to be taken when the crisis took hold are of a different character. The state had to keep the ship afloat. And it did, admittedly at a very high price which might have been lower had there been more information. (..) The committee, however, seems to have gone for an eye-catching conclusion when in reality such a clear-cut judgement may not be justified’, the paper concludes.

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