Seen from the perspective of citizens, anti-fraud measures and governance
Published on: 29 October 2014The Court of Audit has investigated the system of basic registers in place in the Netherlands. The system’s strength lies in its collection of information on people, businesses and buildings once and the government using it many times. Our audit found, however, that this is also a weakness. Errors can spread throughout the system and be repeated by many other organisations, with potentially serious consequences for the public. Data quality is therefore of vital importance. To improve it, governance must be strengthened and a different financing structure must be used.
System of basic registers
The government must have reliable basic information on people, businesses, buildings, etc. to carry out its tasks. The basic registers are an important source of such information. The system collects information once and uses it many times. Five ministers are responsible for the various basic registers and hundreds of stakeholders are involved in their management, use and financing. The Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) is responsible for coordination. Continuous digitisation is increasing the importance and use of the information to provide services to citizens and businesses and also to, for example, combat fraud.
The system consists of the following basic registers:
- Personal Records Database
- (New) Trade Register
- Addresses and Buildings Basic Register
- Vehicles Basic Register
- Kadaster Register
- Topography Basic Register
- (Planned) Large-scale Topography Basic Register
- (Planned) Underground Basic Register
- Property Valuation Basic Register
- Incomes Basic Register
- (Planned) Salaries, Labour Relations and Benefits Basic Register
Citizens in problems
Basic registers benefit citizens by making government services better and more efficient but errors in the registers can cause problems. The correction process is usually difficult and not always possible with retroactive effect. As errors can spread to other records and organisations it is not always possible for the organisation where the initial error occurred to resolve the problems in full (if it can be determined where the initial error occurred). It is virtually impossible for citizens to correct incorrect information if it held by several government bodies. There are also privacy and security risks associated with the basic registers and the exchange of information. The information security frameworks are not regulated clearly for all basic registers and there are few opportunities to see which organisations have consulted what information.
Not all opportunities to combat fraud are being used
The system of basic registers provides opportunities to prevent and combat fraud. To this end the information must be of high quality and up to date. We gained the impression that there were still significant shortcomings in the quality of the information, especially in the address information. Without unambiguous definitions and feedback on inaccuracies, errors in the basic registers are not spotted immediately. Audits, evaluations and reviews rarely consider consistency from one basic register to another. Links between basic registers and data analyses can identify fraud but not all the possibilities are being used. Several initiatives and experiments are being made but the approach is not integrated. This makes it difficult to learn from experience in this area.
Too little control and coherence in the systems
The current governance of the system of basic registers is still not fit for the purpose of the ‘digital unitary state’ that is being created by the interlinkage of information flows. By ‘unitary’ we mean that definitions, methods, working practices and the like are standardised so that they are consistent with each other. Instead there is compartmentalisation and too little control of the consistency within the system. The many interests at play make it difficult to create coherence. The Minister of BZK acts as coordinator but there is no legal basis for his coordination. His ability to push matters through is therefore limited.
Regarding the substantive coherence of the system, we concluded that the ‘system mechanisms’ in place currently make only a limited contribution to facilitating the exchange of information between basic registers and definitions. Furthermore, little targeted attention is paid to the harmonisation of data definitions and terms (including those in legislation).
On the financing of the basic registers, we concluded that there was no clear understanding of the costs and benefits. Furthermore, the costs and benefits of the basic registers are not evenly divided among the various stakeholders. This is an obstacle to the further development of the system. Charging fees to access the data in the registers is also a barrier to their use and reuse. Here, too, the ability to use the basic registers as sources of open data is limited.
To tackle the problems for citizens we recommend that:
- simple inspection and correction procedures be introduced for citizens and registered entities;
- the security and protection of privacy be simplified wherever possible for the entire system;
- an authoritative central desk be set up that citizens and registered entities can contact to resolve problems in the basic registers. We suggest that the National Ombudsman be given specific powers to deal with problems.
With a view to combating fraud and improving the quality of data, we recommend that:
- an integrated strategy be developed for the use of data connections and data analyses;
- experiments in this area be coordinated and evaluated so that lessons can be learned;
- feedback services be improved and supervisory instruments be harmonised.
To improve governance, we recommend that the government, and in particular the Minister of BZK in his capacity as coordinator of the system of basic registers:
- establish a system that lays the foundations for the Minister of BZK to manage, control and take matters forward simply;
- adopt a growth model and strict management to work on the gradual harmonisation, also in the legislation, of the data in the basic registers (data governance) and use standardised system mechanisms for the exchange of information wherever possible;
- introduce comprehensive financial management of the basic registers with a view to the transparency of the allocation of costs and benefits;
- minimise the use of fees to finance the basic registers. Provide the data in the form of open data where there are no privacy of other objections, partly to increase the ability to check the data.
The Minister of BZK recognises the growing importance of the system of basic registers and in general responded positively to our conclusions and recommendations. In our opinion, his undertakings to follow up our recommendations require further elaboration and should be worked out in greater detail.