Who is ready to take responsibility?

30th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

The recriminations are flying following the collapse of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's centre-right coalition.

The recriminations are flying following the collapse of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's centre-right coalition.

His Christian Democrats and his Liberal Party (VVD) allies blame the junior coalition party, D66, for withdrawing its support.

The D66, in turn, says it acted on principle and blames its erstwhile government partners for stubbornly refusing to sack Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk (VVD) over her shoddy treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

On the one hand, this is a silly playground spat that got out of control. On the other, it underlines the hypocrisy at the heart of Balkenende's government.

His denunciations of the D66 still ringing in the air, Balkenende went to the Head of State, Queen Beatrix, on Friday to tender his government's resignation.

Precedence dictates that the remaining CDA-VVD ministers continue in a caretaker — some would say lame duck — capacity, unable to implement controversial policies, pending the formation of a new regime after an early general election.

This isn't just the second Balkenende coalition to implode before its time, but Balkenende II, we are told, is far too important to merely fade into the night. After all, government was a zealot reform movement that intended to make over the Netherlands completely.

For one thing, these ministers consider the public in general to be too lax. So, the government never missed an opportunity over the last three years to preach to the public about the importance of taking personal responsibility for one's actions.

'Rules are rules', we were told. For expats, our supervisor was Verdonk, the mistress of correctness. She was the arbiter of right thinking: anything she dubbed 'Dutch norms and values' were good; anything else was foreign, suspect and probably dangerous.

The 26,000 asylum seekers waiting for five years or more for a decision from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) fell into the latter category. Verdonk devoted herself to a ruthless repatriation programme which sometimes involved breaking up families or sending young people raised here back to countries that were totally foreign to them.

No matter. As far as Rita was concerned, most of them were were liars anyway, using false names and/or stories of oppression to make a better life for themselves at the expense of the hardworking folk of the Netherlands.

The fact that some of the deportees — oops, Rita didn't tolerate the use of that term — had fully integrated and were contributing to Dutch society didn't matter. Rules are rules; they had to go.

Somali-born Liberal MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali was on hand to confirm this one-sided analysis. A former Muslim herself, Hirsi Ali had a lot to tell about the oppression of women under Islam and the anti-western bias preached in some mosques in the Netherlands.

Speaking out earned her death threats, and filmmaker Theo van Gogh paid with his life for collaborating with Hirsi Ali on the film Submission.  All this confirmed to Verdonk that Hirsi Ali was made of the right stuff.

And Hirsi Ali proved herself to be a good friend by not raising a fuss when Verdonk's IND allowed the Congolese authorities to see documents identifying returnees as asylum seekers. This put them at risk of jail or worse.

Hirsi Ali, in common with the other government MPs, stood by Verdonk when the opposition tried to censure her in December 2005 for misleading parliament on the Congolese affair. Rules weren't rules when it came to Verdonk.

Verdonk next found herself in trouble because the IND allowed Syrian officials, probably members of the intelligence service, to interview people who had tried unsuccessfully to get asylum in the Netherlands. Again, the government MPs, including Hirsi Ali, saved Verdonk from a motion of no confidence.

Supervisory bodies slapped Verdonk on the hand several times for the bureaucratic nightmare that passes as an immigration procedure for expats. The country is crying out for 'Kennismigranten' (knowledge migrants) but Verdonk's department, save for a few recent reforms, makes expats jump through legalistic hoops for months before they can get residence status, if they are lucky.

The new naturalisation law drawn up by Verdonk shows all the signs of being a white elephant even before it comes into force, experts warn.

Despite all these disasters, and more, Verdonk is held up a paragon of virtue by the VVD and CDA.

But even they were almost pushed too far when she provoked an international storm by trying to revoke Hirsi Ali's passport. Why? Because Hirsi Ali gave a misleading name and other inaccurate details to get asylum here in 1992. The Liberal leadership and the public at large have known about this since 2002. Maybe, but rules are rules, said Verdonk.

Parliament was riled and ordered her to find a way, by any means possible, to allow Hirsi Ali to keep her passport. After some effort Verdonk managed it, but only by introducing the novel idea that Somali law on the use of a grandfather's name takes precedence over the law of the Netherlands.

The pay-off was that Hirsi Ali had to sign a statement absolving Verdonk of any blame in the matter. This was finally too much for D66. Breaking up families was one thing, but forcing a former asylum seeker and MP to sign a statement worthy of a KGB show trial went too far.

Having seen the government collapse, MPS are on summer recess from Friday

Balkenende's CDA and the Liberals didn't think so. They had let Verdonk get away with so much over the last three years; what did it matter if Verdonk needed this statement to save face? In fact, they thought the statement was an excellent touch.

The CDA and VVD stood by the Minister even though it was clear the affair was about to explode in their faces. The idea seemed to have been: 'She's a loose canon and totally out of control. Let's stand back, cheer and see what happens'.

Obligingly, Verdonk blew a massive hole in Balkenende II. The government ship slipped under the waves, with Captain Jan Peter clinging to the mast and shouting to anyone that would listen that all was well.

The argument now is whether the rump CDA-VVD Cabinet should be allowed to continue ruling as if nothing has happened.

Certainly there are important issues that require attention such as the military mission to Afghanistan in August and the 2007 budget due to be presented in September. But ministers who preach personal responsibility to others while unleashing Verdonk on the rest of us are not fit to govern.

Good riddance.

It is time someone else had a chance.

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Dutch news, Rita Verdonk, Hirsi Ali

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