Last week, the debate on the #teevendeal forced the cabinet to eat humble pie. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted Wednesday’s debate was the “most difficult in his political career”. A vote of censure was brought by the opposition against Rutte. He survived, of course, cabinets always do apparently when they do badly in the polls, but such political disgrace is unprecedented.
The saga had already cost the cabinet its Minister of Justice Ivo Opstelten back in April, and with him went State Secretary Fred Teeven. In addition, last week parliamentary speaker Anouchka van Miltenburg also resigned after the Oosting report on the fiasco criticised her for shredding evidence, an action she still defended – as the information had been handed to her “in confidentiality”.
The Teeven deal refers to a deal Fred Teeven as Public Prosecutor made back in 2000 with a criminal who was fined 750,000 guilders and then given back 4.7 million guilders tax-free – drugs money that had been confiscated by the ministry.
Last week’s Oosting report strongly condemns the deal itself. The old adage “crime doesn’t pay” appears to has been cast aside for reasons that to this day are still not clear. So far there is no indication that the deal led to other serious crimes being solved. However, even though Fred Teeven himself was state secretary when the matter resurfaced in the Dutch news programme Nieuwsuur earlier this year, his colleague Ivo Opstelten inadvertently misinformed parliament on how much the small-time cannabis dealer got away with. He said it was just 1.25 million guilders. Apparently the receipt had gone missing. But in March, Nieuwsuur announced it had uncovered the receipt for 4.7 million.
Instead of coming clean, the VVD appears to have done its utmost to cover up the mess. What’s more the current Minister of Justice Ard van der Steur and State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff were consulted on the matter when they were still MPs. This means that they were privy to confidential information that the parliament had not seen. So as Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma put it the Ministry was being run like more like a VVD party office than a government ministry.
The arrogance of the VVD reached a climax when Rutte failed to provide answers ahead of the debate. And even after surviving the motion of censure, Rutte appeared to want to defend the actions of Teeven, saying Justice needed people like him. It seems the PM thinks he is playing student politics and fails to see the seriously this breach of trust has damaged politics in general. Not only is the relationship between the cabinet and MPs damaged, as far the public is concerned politics is taking on the guise of a pantomime.
And as all pantomines end well. One day later, State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff was voted best politician of the year by the parliamentary press, but there again the popular vote went to Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders. The cabinet survived with the Dutch European presidency coming up in January it would not have done to have a caretaker prime minister leading the EU. But Rutte has been seriously damaged by the whole affair and it has cost three prominent VVD politicians their job. Worst of all it has confirmed the image politicians have for covering up their own mistakes.