Rutte ‘not planning to step down’ over tax office benefits scandal

Photo: Bic via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Bic via Wikimedia Commons

The government should not resign over the child benefits scandal despite senior ministers being implicated in the tax office’s excessive and discriminatory anti-fraud strategy, sources close to prime minister Mark Rutte have told Nieuwsuur.

The cabinet is expected to face a grilling next Tuesday when parliament debates the report of an inquiry into the Belastingdienst’s treatment of parents who were accused of fraudulently claiming childcare support.

Opposition party GroenLinks plans to table a no-confidence motion in the entire government at the debate, an idea also supported by the Socialist Party (SP) and Geert Wilders’s PVV group. The motion is not expected to succeed but if it does, Rutte will be expected to tender his cabinet’s resignation to the king.

Rutte believes that stepping down just two months before the general election would have a purely symbolic value, Nieuwsuur reported. That sentiment was echoed by economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes on Tuesday when he told NOS: ‘I’m taking my cue from the parliamentary investigative committee which said: give priority to doing something for the families.’

As the former junior minister for finance, Wiebes was singled out for criticism by the committee’s report last month. It found that he knew about the group-based approach, the lack of legal protection and the devastating effect on parents of the tax office’s approach to suspected fraud.

Around 20,000 families were ordered to pay back tens of thousands of euros, sometimes because of minor errors in their paperwork. In 96% of cases the tax office wrongly blacklisted parents for running up ‘deliberate or severe debt’.

An internal review also found that 11,000 families had been subjected to extra checks because they had a second nationality, which is against the Dutch constitution’s ban on discrimination.

This week 20 families launched a legal action against Wiebes and four other ministers, including finance minister Wopke Hoekstra and Labour Party (PvdA) leader Lodewijk Asscher, who was formerly minister for social affairs, for their part in the affair.

The families accuse the ministers of criminal negligence in not abiding by the principles of good governance. Six families are also appealing directly to the courts to order a criminal investigation under the so-called Article 12 procedure, after the public prosecution service ruled last week that it would not be bringing charges against the tax office.

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