A Workshop on “Administrative Burden Reduction: Experiences, Practices and Use of ICT tools” took place on 5th March 2008 in the Hague (from 15h to 18h). This activity was co-organized by the OECD and the Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations as a special session of the OECD eLeaders Conference (6 March 2008, the Hague). The eLeaders Conference gathered together, for the first time, high level e-government officials from OECD member countries, OECD observer and accession countries and invited Arab countries to discuss the agenda for e-government in 2020. The workshop is part of the activities of the Working Group on E-Government and Administrative Simplification and the Working Group on Public Service Delivery, PPPs and Regulatory Reform of the Governance for Development (GfD) Initiative in Arab Countries.
The workshop was chaired by Ms Tanja Timmermans, Deputy Head of the Strategy and Innovation Division, Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations, Netherlands. Delegates from five Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Dubai/United Arab Emirates) and three OECD countries (Finland, Portugal and the Netherlands) participated in the workshop, along with experts from the OECD Secretariat.
The workshop was structured around a series of presentations by Dutch government experts from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Dutch Advisory Board on Administrative Burden, covering the institutions, policies and instruments for reducing administrative burdens for citizens and business. Each presentation was followed by a Q&A session.
This workshop addressed Arab countries which are undertaking efforts in designing and implementing programs/activities focused on the simplification and rationalisation of administrative procedures. It aimed at an exchange of knowledge, lessons learned and good practices on implementing policies and tools for administrative simplification - with a particular focus on the use of electronic means – using experience from the Netherlands as a basis.
The simplification and rationalisation of administrative procedures is a key objective for all countries seeking to improve public sector efficiency, performance and competitiveness. Netherlands is recognized as being a leading country in this area thanks to its programmes which focus on the application of specific methodologies to measure the administrative burden to citizens and businesses and identifying reduction targets for each ministry and for citizen groups.
The Regulatory Reform Group within the Ministry of Finance is in charge of undertaking measures to reduce the administrative burden for businesses in the Netherlands. As Ms Cerrato pointed out, the Dutch approach is problem-oriented as it is based on an understanding and assessment of burden perception directly from businesses on a regular basis. The first step is to map out the information obligation on businesses, then measure the overall burden and assign each ministry with a specific burden reduction target. One other feature of the Dutch approach is the linkage between administrative burden reduction targets and budget negotiations. The Netherlands has set a quantitative target of 25% administrative burden reduction for 2008.
The Dutch approach is also characterized by the presence of an independent watchdog, the Dutch Advisory Board on Administrative Burden (ACTAL), which advises ministries on issues of administrative burden assessment and reduction in proposed or existing legislation. For example, with regards to proposed legislation, ACTAL assess, among others, whether or not administrative burdens are quantified; if the quantification is correct; if alternative options exist that may lead to lower administrative burdens.
ICTs are important tools for achieving administrative simplification objectives and reducing the administrative burden on citizens. Netherlands’ approach is characterized by a close cooperation between the programme on reducing administrative burdens for citizens and the e-government programme. This is because ICT is considered not only as an important tool to reduce the administrative burdens but also to improve the quality of public services, both dimensions being at the heart of the Dutch concept of citizen centric government.
In Finland, the vision of e-government supporting better government is centred around the customer-centred administrative processes designed to support citizens in different life situations and companies in different phases of their lifecycle. Similar to the Netherlands, the emphasis is on the delivery of “proactive” electronic services designed to minimise the administrative burden on citizens and companies.
For citizens as well, the Dutch approach to administrative burden reduction is based on the measurement and identification of targets (25%) with a specific focus on reducing burdens for specific target groups: handicapped and chronically ill, elderly, benefit claimants, unemployed and volunteers. To give an example, single electronic file for people who receive an unemployment benefit have been introduced so to allow people to provide information only once. The current focus is on qualitative (as opposed to only quantitative) targets for administrative burden reduction for citizens through a better attention to reduction of the burden related to most important annoyances of citizens.
While participants agreed that e-government is an important tool to cut red tape by diminishing waiting times, increasing transparency and lowering the cost of transactions for citizens and businesses, both Arab and OECD countries acknowledge that a number of challenges still lie ahead in making the most of ICT for administrative burden reduction. One of this is the integration of back-offices which allows the provision of seamless services through online one-stop-shops. Data exchange between administrations is also difficult to achieve existing rigidities in many countries of the legislative and regulatory environment which allow data exchange only under limited conditions.
Finally, communication and branding of administrative simplification efforts is also crucial to ensure major stakeholders understanding and buy-in of reforms. As in the case of Portugal, consultation with business sector and civil society was an important element which helped government fine-tune program implementation targets and create awareness on the objectives and instruments of the Simplex program. In the Netherlands as well, citizen perspective is also considered to be central to ensure the success of burden reduction initiatives.
The workshop allowed Arab countries have acquired a better understanding and knowledge of how to implement efforts towards reducing the administrative burden for citizens and business through the analysis and discussion of the approach developed and tools used for administrative burden reduction from one of the most advanced OECD countries in this area. The workshop met its objective also thanks to the limited number of participants around the table allowed a frank and focused exchange on the issues and challenges in implementing administrative simplification policies. The format of this workshop could serve as a pilot for future activities in this area.
Administrative simplification has been identified by Arab countries as a key topic for regional policy dialogue between Arab and OECD countries. Specific activities on administrative simplification have been organised jointly in the past by these two working groups. A High Level Seminar on Strategies, Tools and Capacities for Administrative Simplification , which took place in Egypt in June 2007, provided the foundation for the creation of a network of administrative simplification experts in Arab countries. A follow up seminar of this network is currently under preparation by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Administrative Development in collaboration with the OECD on 18-19 June 2008.