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Netherlands government resigns over child benefits scandal

‘The government was not up to standard throughout this whole affair’

Mark-Rutte-dutch-PM-Reuters Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks during his news conference with newly appointed Health Minister Hugo De Jonge | Reuters

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the four-party coalition government resigned on Friday. The cabinet will stay on in caretaker capacity, till a new government is elected. Rutte’s cabinet resigned over a child benefits scandal, the media reported. The development threatened political turmoil.

The Dutch government falsely accused thousands of parents of fraudulently claiming child allowance. Several of them were forced to repay large amounts of money totalling in tens of thousands of euros, that ended up depleting their funds. 

“The government was not up to standard throughout this whole affair. Mistakes were made at every level of the state, with the result that terrible injustice was done to thousands of parents,” Rutte told The Guardian. 

Tax officials targeting some parents for investigations because they had dual nationality underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands. Around 26,000 people had been affected adversely due to false investigations. They were accused of fraudulently claiming child allowances since 2012. 

The move comes less than two months before the Netherlands is due to hold general elections on March 17. 

Rutte, who headed the government since 2010, had opposed the cabinet's resignation. He said that the cabinet would stay on to help manage the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis. The country will be in a state of strict lockdown till February 9.  

According to polls, Rutte’s Freedom and Democracy Party could have a favourable outcome.  Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, an AFP report reads.

The Dutch government has announced a compensation of at least 30,000 euros for each parent falsely accused due to the investigation. Tax officials have said that around 11,000 people affected by the investigation were picked after “racial profiling”. 

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