Data errors hamper enforcement of environmental rules

Typing errors, records entered under different names and inconsistent address details are hampering the enforcement of environmental regulations at businesses that work with large quantities of hazardous materials. The data in the two systems used by supervisors and enforcement officers are of poor quality. The Netherlands Court of Audit came to these conclusions during an audit of the effectiveness of the approach to environmental offences and crime.

Rapport Een onzichtbaar probleem

In its audit report, ‘An invisible problem’, the Court of Audit considers a problem that has been known for years but has never been addressed. Supervisors and enforcement officers rely heavily on the two systems, Inspectieview and the Criminal Records Register. At present, however, they have difficulty understanding how a business has observed environmental regulations over the years. This is because it is often difficult to determine from the data which inspection results belong to which business.

The Court of Audit found many combinations of different, outdated or incorrect business names, addresses and Chamber of Commerce registration numbers. ‘There were often more than 10 variants for a single business.’ Furthermore, lack of clarity in the law meant not all supervisors were connected to Inspectieview. Some regional environmental services were not connected, including 3 of the 6 services tasked with supervising businesses that work with large quantities of hazardous materials that represent a risk to people and the environment.

Resolve the problems

The Court of Audit calls on the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management and the Minister of Justice and Security to resolve the problems with Inspectieview and the Criminal Records Register as quickly as possible and to eliminate the lack of clarity in the law. The state secretary and minister replied that many measures were already being taken to resolve the problems. They also noted that it had already been agreed that all the environmental services would be connected to Inspectieview by 1 January 2022. Whether the state secretary should wait to see if the agreement is honoured or should exercise her statutory powers is a matter for her and parliament, according to the Court of Audit.

In practice, errors in the data mean there is a lack of information on the sanctions that have been imposed or the legal process. It therefore cannot be determined whether the environmental regulations were enforced in accordance with the national strategy, for which the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministers of Justice and Security, and Foreign Affairs and Kingdom Relations and others are responsible.

The Court of Audit will continue its wider audit of the approach to combatting environmental offences and crime. By carefully processing the data, the Court is building up a picture of 500 businesses that work with large quantities of hazardous materials. The audit will be published this summer.