Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has announced the resignation of his government, accepting responsibility for years of mismanagement of childcare subsidies, which wrongfully drove thousands of families to financial ruin.
Rutte, who heads the liberal people’s party for freedom and democracy, said he had handed his resignation to King Willem-Alexander.
“The rule of law must protect its citizens from an all-powerful government, and here that’s gone terribly wrong, Rutte on Friday, 15 January.
The cabinet would remain in place in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis for now, with an election already due on March 17.
According to BBC, the resignation follows a parliamentary inquiry last month that found bureaucrats at the tax service had wrongly accused families of fraud.
The inquiry report said approximately 10,000 families had been forced to repay tens of thousands of euros of subsidies, in some cases leading to unemployment, bankruptcies and divorces, in what it called an unprecedented injustice.
Parents were branded fraudsters over minor errors such as missing signatures on paperwork and erroneously forced to pay back tens of thousands of euros given by the government to offset the cost of childcare, with no means of redress. They were, as one junior minister who resigned in connection with the scandal put it, ‘steamrolled’ by the system.
Last year the tax office admitted that 11,000 people were subjected to extra scrutiny simply because they had dual nationality. This confession has reinforced the widely held belief among many ethnic minorities in the Netherlands that discrimination against them is institutionalised and perpetuated by those in power.
With some parents racially profiled during the investigation, the affair underscored criticisms of the Dutch state under Rutte, including an addiction to frugality and a failure to tackle systemic racism.
Orlando Kadir, a lawyer representing about 600 families, told Dutch radio people had been targeted as a result of ethnic profiling by bureaucrats who picked out their foreign-looking names.
The scandal has now tarnished the liberal leader’s carefully honed image as a plain-speaking, pragmatic politician whose traditional values have chimed with voters in the Netherlands since 2010.
This is not the first time a Dutch government has resigned en masse in a gesture of collective responsibility. In 2002, the cabinet stood down after a report criticised ministers and the military for failing to prevent the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war seven years earlier.