The Netherlands national debt is €32bn lower than thought, caretaker finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem told MPs on Wednesday. The total debt at the end of the year reached €434bn or €26,000 per head of the population.
The reduction in the earlier estimate is partly due to higher receipts from the sale of parts of state-owned ABN Amro, insurance group ASR and Propertize, the property arm of SNS Reaal, which was also nationalised.
Nevertheless, at 62.3% of GDP, the debt is still above the official EU threshold of 60%.
The third Wednesday in May is known officially as ‘responsibility day’, when government ministries and the national audit office present their annual reports to parliament.
In his report, audit office chief Arno Visser criticised the way politicians spend money on lots of different policies but do not know if their actions have had the desired effect.
‘This makes it difficult to determine if taxpayers are getting value for money,’ he said.
For example, €2.4bn was spent on ensuring education is better tailored to meet the need of pupils, he said, but in fact fewer children are benefiting from special tailor-made education.
It is also unclear if improvements in air quality are the result of government efforts – and a cash injection of €1.6bn – or if other factors are responsible, he said.
In particular, Visser said he is concerned about the lack of reasoning behind cuts in the size of the civil service, which has led to a shortage of IT experts, financial experts and others.
The massive government IT system is also a cause for concern, he said: ‘The approach is one of preventing breakdowns, and that is paralysing progress.’
There was one piece of good news, however, Visser said. The health ministry has under-spent its budget for the fourth year in a row.
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