Dutch Finance Minister Steps Down Amid Child Care Fraud Scandal

THE HAGUE (CN) – Embattled Dutch deputy finance minister Menno Snel resigned Wednesday after mishandling a child care benefit scandal.

Menno Snel, the Dutch deputy finance minister who stepped down amid a child care benefits scandal on Dec. 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Dutch government)

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of parents were erroneously forced to pay back money they were given by the government to offset the cost of child care, in some cases losing homes and jobs in what’s become known as the “toeslagenaffaire” or the allowance affair.

“They [parents] have been steamrolled by a government apparatus without being able to escape it. But I can’t make up for it anymore,” Snel said during a debate in the Lower House of Dutch Parliament on Wednesday, the public gallery filled with parents who have been affected.

A few hours later, Dutch King Willem-Alexander announced Snel’s resignation had been accepted.

A 2013 change in policy at the Dutch tax office left anyone accused of benefits fraud without the opportunity to appeal. The tax office has acknowledged it was aware the policy was illegal but continued to operate this way until 2016, when multiple Dutch news outlets reported on the problems.

Parents were forced to pay back tens of thousands of euros in benefits, resulting in garnished wages, seized assets and the loss of other benefits.

Though this transpired prior to Snel’s appointment in 2017, there is an unwritten rule in Dutch politics that a minister should resign for any unaccounted-for wrongdoing at their ministry, regardless of blame.

The tax office in the Netherlands has had long-standing problems. Frans Weekers, who held the same role as Snel, was forced to resign in 2014 after another scandal involving child care benefits. Weekers’ replacement Eric Wiebes – now finance minister – oversaw a failed attempt to reorganize the office in 2016. Snel had previously worked for the tax office as the deputy director-general for tax affairs. He left that role in 2009.

Snel, who is from the coalition government’s only left-leaning political party the D66, survived a no-confidence vote two weeks ago when green-left opposition party GroenLinks and the SGP, a conservative Christian party, blocked a vote that would have forced him to step down.

But last week, the tax office gave the scandal more fuel when it provided nearly entirely redacted personal files to the victims. The files were supposed to give parents some clarity as to why they had been targeted.

A disproportionate number of the parents involved were born abroad or have a non-Dutch background.

Parents present in the gallery Wednesday expressed both happiness and frustration at Snel’s resignation. “It is good that he has resigned, but that does not give us a good solution,” said one mother who didn’t want to be named.

“The resignation of Menno Snel is incredibly unfortunate. No one doubted his enormous commitment to finding a solution. We are losing a very involved and expert colleague and that is extremely unfortunate,” said Prime Minister Mark Rutte in a tweet.

Snel is the third minister from Rutte’s third cabinet, to step down since national elections in 2017. Earlier this year, junior justice and security minister Mark Harbers resigned after it was discovered he had misrepresented crime figures. In 2018, foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra stepped down after it came to light that he had lied about being in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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