Where State Secretary Menno Snel (D66) did not want to be rushed, his temporary successor Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) opts to intervene quickly and drastically at the top of the Tax Authorities. The Minister of Finance, who observes the troubled portfolio of the State Secretary who stepped up last month, announced this weekend that both an administrative reorganization to if the departure of the highest responsible official, Director General Jaap Uijlenbroek.
With this, before the end of the Christmas recess, Hoekstra responded to the wish of the House of Representatives to take decisive action at the Tax Authorities, which was seriously under fire as a result of the allowance affair. On a regular basis, MPs, both from the opposition and from the coalition, asked State Secretary Snel to take action against the responsible officials. His answer was always that he did not want to pursue personnel policy through the House of Representatives or through the media. After the pressure had increased further in December and his political credit had run out, Snel decided shortly before the recess to eventually resign himself. The official top remained.
Also read: Primary civil servant Menno Snel told the Tax Authorities
Uijlenbroek was appointed “DG” at the end of 2017 after the previous affair with the Tax Authorities – the reorganization that got out of hand, in which hundreds of well-qualified people with a generous severance payment left unintentionally. His predecessor, Hans Leijtens, had held the position for less than a year. It shows that not only ministers but also senior officials at the tax authorities have a high risk of damage.
Although Hoekstra in his explanatory letter to the House of Representatives emphasizes that the departure of Uijlenbroek is associated with a new top structure – the Tax Authorities are divided into three parts, each with its own Director General – his resignation cannot be seen in isolation from the long-standing affair around childcare allowances. For hundreds and possibly thousands of families, these allowances were wrongly stopped because they were falsely accused of having committed fraud. Especially in the settlement of this issue and offering (financial) compensation to victims, everything went wrong last autumn.
The Donner Commission, which investigated the affair, stated that there has been “institutional bias” within the Tax Authorities when stopping allowances and imposing fines. Since the summer, the State Secretary acknowledged that the human scale was lost in many individual cases. That has not been found in recent months, as evidenced by the sometimes clumsy action of the Surcharges department. For example, a few duped parents were sent their personal file within the promised short time at the beginning of December, but large parts were painted black. Formally this was correct, it was about sensitive information, but from a communicative point of view it was disastrous.
The action confirmed the perception that employees and the administrative leadership of the Tax Authorities have no regard whatsoever for the human side of all those hundreds, and possibly thousands of affected parents, who, in the words of Minister Hoekstra, “in a very unpleasant way under the wheels of the government ended up “. The black lacquered files were the reason for Menno Snel to take his political responsibility on 18 December and to resign.
Cut it up
When Snel decided in November to financially compensate the first group of about three hundred parents, exactly as the Donner committee had advised, he also announced that he would like to look at the structure of the Tax Authorities. Hoekstra is now putting that idea into effect. The service is divided into three separate sections: Customs, Surcharges and the core duties of the Tax Authorities (the collection of over 300 billion in annual taxes and social contributions), including the FIOD tax investigation service.
In addition, Hoekstra has a study carried out into the lack of communication between the Tax Authorities and the citizen – more specifically: the poor accessibility of the Tax Telephone – and he wants to implement a cultural change. “A culture with an eye for the human dimension and a safe working environment is of great importance,” he writes to the Chamber. These two initiatives were also announced by Menno Snel and Hoekstra is now launching them.
Also read: How to get out of the maze of allowances
It will be up to the newly appointed State Secretary to steer these changes in the right direction. Possibly, it sounds in The Hague, the cabinet will want to appoint two state secretaries for Finance, one of which will deal exclusively with Allowances. This Monday, Hoekstra confirmed in a television program on Sunday afternoon Buitenhof, the chairmen of the four government parties will talk to him and Prime Minister Rutte about the succession of Snel.
After the administrative reorganization and a culture improvement, the biggest change of the Tax Authorities is still about to happen: reforming the current allowance system. This form of income support for household skins with a tight wallet, which was introduced fifteen years ago and is well-intentioned, is so clogged up and stuck that nobody in The Hague doubts that this system can no longer be maintained. Hoekstra pointed out that such a reform cannot be arranged in the short term. This means that a sizeable and politically charged subject is ready for the next cabinet formation.