Unfortunately, like many powerful parliamentary tools (proposals!), the House of Representatives itself is once again in danger of undermining a very useful tool: parliamentary investigations.
A parliamentary inquiry is useful because it reveals facts from which all archives (even those of the Cabinet, long before they are released) can be consulted and witnesses can be compelled to cross-examine if necessary. It also contains an element of deterrence: If I did it now as minister, I would have seven MPs armed to the teeth, plus three relentless video cameras, sitting in front of me.
But then commissions of inquiry (and their various forms, such as Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry and Inquiry) are required to do what the law says they are for: investigate and recount the facts. Provide context, provide ideas afterward and make recommendations.
But what certainly must not be, if we use the loaded term of the Hague, is to turn it into a tribunal. Because this would be nice and comforting to the victims, alleged or not. The worst example was the near-hysterical Rynske Lajten (SP) on the childcare allowance interrogation panel, in which CDA chief Chris Van Dam also participated.
With the conclusions already in mind, several interrogations were carried out in an unrealistic manner: Key questions, Not letting the witnesses finish, not caring about the answers. Anyone who doesn’t believe me should look at the interpellation with Gerard Blankistein, director of benefits at the Tax and Customs Administration from 2011 to 2018. This became a tribunal, not a parliamentary inquiry or grilling.
In the 1980s I summarized two parliamentary inquiries about the daily NOS in a montage (RSV 1983 and ABP 1988). Later, I chaired a parliamentary investigation committee once (ICT 2014) and was once a member of an investigation committee (Fyra 2016). In all cases, sometimes very critical questions were asked. But she did so in a way that left room for answers. In addition, the interrogators were seriously interested in the answers and not just their questions, in order to make themselves known.
Does this set the trend? And unfortunately, now that the report on Groningen has been published, that seems to be the case
In doing so, the Supplementary Benefits Committee willfully overreached, by going further than it was directed to do (while passing the Parliamentary motion). It has already articulated largely political conclusions on the first page of the report rather than presenting the facts as clearly as possible and making recommendations. After all, the House of Representatives has to draw conclusions on the basis of a survey report about policy, future improvement, and potential political consequences.
When that happened, the already troubling question was: Does this set a trend? And unfortunately, now that the report on Groningen has been published, that seems to be the case. Here, too, is a strong major political conclusion if the commission states that there is a “debt of honour” to the people of Groningen that must be repaid. There is a good chance that this conclusion will be justified on the basis of the factual material collected, but the point is precisely that it is the House of Representatives that must reach that political conclusion on the basis of that factual material. Now a group of deputies assembled for a commission of inquiry, had already begun to draw political conclusions and publish them with great fanfare in Groningen itself to alleviate the suffering.
It would only make sense for parliamentary investigations to go back to their origins.
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