Sunday 20 June 2021

Health ministry cannot account for over €5bn of its 2020 budget

Room for improvement at VWS accounts department Photo:

The independent government audit office Algemene Rekenkamer has singled out the health ministry for particular criticism for being unable to account for a €5bn spend during 2020, Dutch media report.

In its annual audit check of ministry spending, traditionally presented on the third Wednesday in May, the Rekenkamer acknowledged that the coronavirus crisis had put pressure on the health ministry to take a raft of measures, but that this had led to ‘serious shortcomings’ in the accounts department.

Some €1bn of the unjustified expenditure went on testing materials. In total, €1.2bn was spent on protection for healthcare workers and respirators for care homes while €2bn went on bonuses for medical staff.

The Rekenkamer said that receipts for respirators were missing and that is unclear if the number of corona tests specified on the invoices had been in fact delivered.

The coronavirus crisis has ‘uncovered structural weaknesses’, the Rekenkamer said. Over the last 20 years 17 deficiencies have been found in the health ministry budget. ‘This shows that the problem was there before the crisis. In this case “Never waste a good crisis” applies, in other words, tackle the problem,’ the report said.

The Rekenkamer took the unusual step of slapping the ministry with a ‘formal objection’, the highest mark of disapproval at its disposal. An aggravating factor, it said, was that health minister Hugo de Jonge had been told about the problems as early as September 2020 but did not act on the warning until 2021.

The health ministry said has now submitted an ‘improvement plan’ and will be spending more money to bring accountancy skills up to par.

Face masks

In another issue, the Volkskrant has revealed that the ministry spent over €100m on face masks bought via entrepreneur Sywert van Lienden which later turned out to be surplus to requirements and a potential health risk. Van Lienden said in public he would not profit financially from the deal but allegedly did.

In total, the Rekenkamer found 50 instances where it could not be established if tax money had been spent responsibly last year, up three compared with 2019.

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