The parliamentary inquiry committee into the government’s fraud policy and service provision started its public hearings in the Tweede Kamer on Wednesday. On the first day, the parliamentarians will speak to several victims of the benefits scandal. Prime Minister Mark Rutte is scheduled for questioning on Thursday.
The inquiry is mainly focused on how the government combats fraud – prompted by the benefits scandal in which the Tax Authority accused thousands of parents of fraud and ordered them to repay their childcare allowances, leaving many in financial ruin – and why its services have fallen short. The committee will also look into the role of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, in these matters.
The first person to speak to the committee on Wednesday was Dulce Goncalves-Tavares, one of the victims of the benefits scandal. She answered the committee’s questions for about 55 minutes, telling them how the Tax Authority informed her she had to pay back 125,000 euros in childcare allowances without providing her enough information as to why. After the first letter, she thought she owed the Tax Authority only 125 euros, she said was an example of the poor information provision. The amount later increased to 200,000 euros.
According to Goncalves-Tavares, the Tax Authority showed very little understanding of her situation as a single mother who had to take her three children to daycare so that she could work and provide for them. She complied with the rules, she said. “To this day, I do not understand how this could have happened.”
“Not everyone there actually committed fraud. Not everyone there abused [the system]. There are hard-working mothers,” Goncalves-Tavares said. The government handling of the matter caused an enormous amount of damage to entire families, she continued. “I believe that everyone is born free and free to make their own choices, but there was no choice here. They say that the Netherlands is a free country and everyone is free, but I hope that the Netherlands does not try to silence the parents in the benefits scandal or pity them. We are not pitiful people, we are strong people.”
The Rutte III Cabinet collapsed over the benefits scandal in January 2021. The Rutte IV Cabinet, consisting of the same parties as Rutte III, collapsed on July 7, the same day that parliament announced it would start public hearings in its fraud inquiry on September 6. The reason given for the Rutte IV collapse was that the coalition parties couldn’t reach an agreement on family reunification for asylum seekers in its asylum policy.
Later on Wednesday, the committee will speak to more victims of the benefits scandal. The public hearings will run until October 5.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte will appear before the committee for the first time on Thursday at 2:00 p.m. Then he’ll answer questions about his role in the scandal as former State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment Opportunity between 2002 and 2004. He’ll be called in again later to testify on his role in these matters as Prime Minister.
This week, the committee will also speak with former Volkskrant journalist Gijs Herderschee and several professors and other experts on social security, government communication, and personal data protection.
The parliamentary inquiry is a follow-up investigation after two previous studies. One was into the benefits scandal, and the other study was into the functioning of the government’s implementation organization.