The buck stops here: Dutch govt quits over welfare scandal

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FILE- In this Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, file photo, Prime Minister Mark Rute, center left, and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, center, pose with the ministers for the official photo of the new Dutch government on the steps of Royal Palace Noordeinde in The Hague, Netherlands. The Dutch Cabinet was meeting Friday Jan. 15, 2021, amid strong speculation that Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government will resign to take political responsibility for a scandal involving child benefit investigations.(AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his entire Cabinet resigned Friday to take political responsibility for a scandal involving investigations into child welfare payments that wrongly labeled thousands of parents as fraudsters.

In a nationally televised speech, Rutte said he had informed King Willem-Alexander of his decision and pledged that his government would continue work to compensate affected parents as quickly as possible and to battle the coronavirus.

“We are of one mind that if the whole system has failed, we all must take responsibility, and that has led to the conclusion that I have just offered the king, the resignation of the entire Cabinet,” Rutte said.

Not long after delivering his statement, Rutte got on his bicycle and rode to the king's palace in a forest in The Hague to formally inform the king. Dutch television showed him parking his bike at the bottom of steps leading into the palace and walking inside.

The move was seen as largely symbolic; Rutte’s government will remain in office in a caretaker mode until a new coalition is formed after a March 17 election in the Netherlands.

The resignation brings to an end a decade in office for Rutte, although his party is expected to win the election, putting him first in line to begin talks to form the next government. If he succeeds in forming a new coalition, Rutte would most likely again become prime minister.

Geert Wilders, leader of the largest opposition party in the Dutch parliament said it was the right decision for the government to quit.

“Innocent people have been criminalized, their lives destroyed and parliament was informed about it inaccurately and incompletely,” he tweeted.