Dutch government weighs possible resignation even as it battles growing pandemic By Reuters

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet is collectively considering resigning over a report that blamed the government for mismanagement of child care subsidies that led to thousands of families financial ruin. A parliamentary inquiry last month found that an “unprecedented injustice” had been committed against innocent families, who were often forced to repay tens of thousands of euros of subsidies awarded, leading to unemployment, bankruptcy or divorce. Rutte, in office since 2010, said late last month that the issue, which spans most of the last decade, was “embarrassing.” Compensation of at least 30,000 euros ($ 36,500) is being paid to approximately 10,000 families. This week, the families brought charges against five politicians, including Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra and Finance Minister Eric Wiebes for their role in mismanagement. Opinion polls show that Rutte’s government has the approval of two-thirds of the public. But political analysts said pressure on the government to resign increased after Lodewijk Asscher resigned as head of the opposition Labor Party and said he would not oppose the March 17 parliamentary elections as he felt he was partly guilty of the scandal. Asscher, who was Minister of Social Affairs when his party was a coalition partner in a previous Rutte government, “puts more pressure not only on the cabinet, but also on individual party leaders,” political expert Tom- wrote on Twitter. Jan Meeus. Crisis talks with the entire cabinet called by Rutte were scheduled for Friday. The subsidy scandal caused the tax office to ruthlessly enforce subsidy refunds, without giving families a chance to prove their innocence. Government ministries and even the courts also failed to provide the necessary assistance, the parliamentary committee concluded. The crisis comes just two months before the next elections and the country is in the midst of the toughest blockade of the coronavirus pandemic. Rutte is considering even stricter restrictions as infections rise. Responding to questions about his possible resignation, Rutte said Tuesday that his cabinet will remain fully capable of handling COVID-19, even if forced to assume caregiver status. The Netherlands has recorded nearly 900,000 coronavirus cases and more than 12,000 deaths. ($ 1 = 0.8223 euros)

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