Earlier this week, it was confirmed that the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (de Belastingdienst) have been guilty of ethnic profiling for years. These racist practices, targeting Dutch citizens on the basis of their nationality, have caused irreparable damage to thousands of families. BIJ1 demands those responsible for drafting and implementing the policy, be held accountable and for radical action to be taken against institutional racism within the government as a whole.
The Netherlands, while presenting itself as a guardian of international law, is the country where tax authorities selected more than 11,000 people for additional fraud checks on the basis of their (second) nationality. A practice that was in effect for a number of years. Having a second nationality was an official motive to flag an individual as having an ‘increased risk of fraud’.
Due to this policy, thousands of people with a second nationality and/or migration background were subjected to extra screenings and groundlessly highlighted as fraudsters. People were ordered to refund their allowance for childcare, in some cases resulting in high debts and severe financial difficulties. One of the affected parents was even driven to suicide.
Government in denial
Employees started blowing the whistle on these practices as early as 2014. Asscher and Wiebes, respectively the responsible minister and state secretary at the time, must have been aware, but ignored these sounds of alarm. Subsequently, the Council of State (Raad van State), the highest court of law that can rule on a dispute between citizens and the government, also contributed to the preservation of the racist policies. The lawsuits against the tax authorities by hundreds of victims were dismissed under the vice-chairmanship of Piet Hein Donner (former CDA Minister of Justice). Thus allowing these racist policies to continue for years, with devastating consequences for the families.
This misconduct shows that as a citizen, one is powerless against powerful government institutions such as the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration. And the maladministration continues. Solutions for the people affected are still nowhere in sight: parents who requested their files months ago, still haven’t been able to review them. Nor has there been any progress regarding financial compensation. Ultimately, the only road toward real recovery is structural change within the tax authorities.
Time for action!
An immense evil and enormous injustice has been done to thousands of people. It proves that government officials can be expected to actively discriminate. Serious and adequate action is needed, immediately.
- Compensate all families affected by these crimes of institutional racism. We mean serious compensations: after all, there is no amount of money that can sufficiently compensate the suffering of these people. The government must take responsibility and compensate as best as possible for the problems it has caused.
- Conduct a parliamentary inquiry into institutional racism at the Tax Authorities and the parts ministers and civil servants play in it.
- Hold the policymakers responsible. They must be tried for the drafting and implementation of discriminatory policies. They are to blame for the consequences this has had for thousands of families, the gagging and abuse of power, and the death of a person.
- Fire employees who have knowingly contributed to this. Only then can we start working on the eradication of racism at the Tax Authorities.
- Protect whistleblowers unconditionally, to ensure wrongdoings like this can be detected and addressed sooner.
- Conduct wider research into institutional racism. Not only at the Tax Authorities, but also at other government agencies that have shown indications of structural racism and forms of discrimination, such as the UWV, CBR and SVB.
- Compel municipalities to investigate their own institutions and facilities for discrimination and institutional racism. In doing so, the government must not only provide funding but also facilitate concrete support to ensure that the investigations are run as transparent and unadulterated as possible.
- Take all necessary steps to eradicate racism from institutions through the leadership and expertise of people of colour.
- Establish a Constitutional Court that assesses policies, laws and treaties against the Constitution. Remove Article 120 of the Constitution which makes this kind of discriminatory practice impossible.
- End the use of ethnic registration and registration of nationality by the Tax Authorities immediately. Prohibit the use of such data for other government services if it cannot be guaranteed that it won't be damaging.