August 13, 2022

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Audit Bureau: Parliament threatens to waste billions of dollars

Audit Bureau: Parliament threatens to waste billions of dollars

Former Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra transfers the bag to Sigrid Kaag.Brunopress’s photo

This is what the head of the Court of Auditors, Arno Visser, wrote in a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Vera Bergkamp. The Audit Bureau is expected to review the regularity and effectiveness of central government revenues and expenditures. This often takes a lot of effort. In recent years, the Court of Audit has often found that the government does not have the information presented in order, making it impossible to check exactly what tax money is being spent and whether it is hitting the target.

Visser now fears that it will become more complicated in the coming years, as the new government selects tens of billions of additional expenditures via private funds. For example, there will be a nitrogen reduction and nature restoration fund (25 billion euros) and a climate policy fund (35 billion euros). Earlier this week, the Central Planning Office concluded that due in part to the money, government debt will eventually rise to 92 percent of GDP, a significant breach of the 60 percent limit in place so far.

Fear of pressure groups

The Court of Auditors has another concern about these funds: once they are filled with money, they are generally no longer part of normal spending in the national budget. “Schemes that are financed after the start of such a fund are no longer part of the annual process of authorizing and controlling public spending by Parliament,” Visser says.

The House will still be aware of this, but will no longer have the opportunity to change the expenditures. “We think it is undesirable from a democratic point of view that public-purpose funds (in part) evade the general state budget right, the regular budget, and the accountability process,” Visser says.

Independent Representative Peter Umtzigt shares this criticism. For this reason, he has already voted against the €20 billion “growth fund” created by the previous government for one-time investments that would increase the growth potential of the Dutch economy. Until then, Umtzigt had feared the lack of parliamentary control. “It is very unwise to set up big funds. It is even unwise not to attach clear standards to them. The danger is that big lobbyists will demand them. Then whoever shouts the loudest will take off their billions.

Moreover, in principle, I believe that such expenditures should be submitted to the House of Representatives. It is good that the Fund presents a balanced proposal, but in the end it must end here, in the House of Representatives, where 150 deputies have been appointed to make an integrated assessment of interests.

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