Opposition criticizes gov't response to benefits scandal; Rutte again asks for patience

THE HAGUE - Opposition parties in the Tweede Kamer had no good word for how the Cabinet responded to a harsh report on the childcare allowance scandal, which was published at the end of 2020. Few of the promises made by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the time have materialized, according to MPs from various factions during a parliamentary debate on the matter. Rutte continued to ask those affected by the scandal for patience. Parents sometimes loudly expressed their dissatisfaction from the public gallery. 


“Quite nice things were promised,” said SP parliamentarian Renske Leijten. But the generous compensation for victimized parents has stalled, and the simplification of the rules to prevent a repetition of the benefits debacle has not materialized in many areas. Leijten spoke of “a sales trick” by the Cabinet. “In the end, nothing will change for people at the counter.” 


Independent MP Pieter Omtzigt is particularly disappointed that information management at the national government and the information provision to the Tweede Kamer are still below par. “As Kamer, we cannot do our job like this. If our information is incorrect, we will make the wrong decisions.” According to Omtzight, this also applies to the Tax Authority or the UWV, for example. If the information there is incorrect, “then citizens are without rights.” 


DENK parliamentarian Stephan van Baarle aimed his arrows at Rutte himself. “Why is this man still here?” he wondered. He also pointed to the Prime Minister's big promises after his previous Cabinet resigned over the benefits scandal. “People under pressure promise mountains of gold,” said Van Baarle. Little of these promises have been achieved. “If you can’t succeed, Mr. Rutte, then leave.” 


BBB leader Caroline van der Plas also struggled with Rutte’s role. He has sold “old wine in new bottles,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with this Prime Minister anymore.” 


PvdA leader Attje Kuiken pointed out that she also didn’t want Rutte to stay after his Cabinet fell. But she doesn’t believe it will help parents if he leaves. 


Several parliamentarians were furious about the revelation by RTL Nieuws that the Benefits service tried to make secret agreements with judges about extending decision periods. “Why is there time for that and not for implementing the law,” Leijten wanted to know. Van Baarle called it “shameless.” Omtzigt: “How do you get it in your head?” 


For his part, Rutte continued to ask the affected parents for patience. Partly due to the enormous numbers of files that must be processed, the compensation operation can’t go any faster, he said to the loud dissatisfaction from affected parents sitting in the public gallery. 


According to Rutte, the full damage of approximately 90 percent of the files should be determined in the first quarter of 2025. The remaining 10 percent must then be settled in the following six months. The Prime Minister called that a bright spot because it was previously thought that the compensation operation would not be completed until sometime in 2027. 


Parliamentarians urged Rutte to speed up, but he said he didn’t want to make any more promises that he might be unable to keep. Rutte contradicted that he was indifferent to the suffering of the victims. He pointed to the many conversations he himself had with parents and assured them that they would leave no one in the cold. But he also emphasized again that he can never take away all the suffering.