Scope and implementation
The Autonomous Administrative Authorities Framework Act was passed after protracted debate. This survey outlines the Framework Act's scope and implementation. In particular, it considers the impact and application of the rules on financial supervision: accountability for efficiency and regularity. It is similar to the audits we have carried out in recent years of accountability and supervision at autonomous administrative authorities (ZBOs), as reported upon in, inter alia, the background document Accountability for and supervision of the performance and outputs of arm's length institutions that we recently published as part of our annual audit. The survey also provides additional information on the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations' evaluation of the Autonomous Administrative Authorities Framework Act.
The Court of Audit concluded that the Autonomous Administrative
Authorities Framework Act currently does not create the order,
harmony and clarity on ministerial responsibility it was intended
to create. This is chiefly because a large number of the 128 ZBOs
in total are exempt from the Framework Act (55, representing €1.1
billion in budget funds and €0.3 billion in fees and charges) and
because of the exemptions permitted from the Framework Act's
provisions (38, representing €4.4 billion in budgeted funds and
€36.9 billion in fees and charges). The Autonomous Administrative
Authorities Framework Act correctly provides some discretion for
tailoring. The government's initial intention was to have the
Framework Act apply in full to about 75% of all ZBOs covered by its
definition of a ZBO. Ultimately, however, the Framework Act applies
or will apply to less than 25% of the ZBOs.
The Autonomous Administrative Authorities Framework Act also provides the organisations it applies to with inadequate guidance on regularity and efficiency. It is uncertain, for example, what the prescribed auditor's report on efficiency must contain. We found from a case study that such reports had not been issued at virtually all the ZBOs covered by our audit. Furthermore, the scope of the term 'regularity', the collection and expenditure of funds, the audit principles and the formulation of the auditor's report are inadequately worked out. The same principles should apply to the entire public sector. At present this is not the case.
We recommend that private law ZBOs that carry on a substantial
public task in future be subject to the Framework Act's
comprehensive accountability regime. Its general accounting
standards should also apply to legal persons with statutory tasks
(RWTs). In our opinion, the Framework Act should provide a solid
general legal basis for all institutions.
Accounting standards must be clarified and harmonised for all
arm's length institutions so that reliable reports can be
submitted to parliament and the administrative burden can be
reduced. Many institutions are currently having to satisfy
different requirements set by different ministries or policy
fields. The efficiency of the ministers' supervision would also
benefit from clarification and harmonisation in this area.
The Autonomous Administrative Authorities Framework Act is not the only means to achieve the goals set for it. They could be achieved through cooperation between ministries and institutions, with the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Minister of Finance acting as coordinators. In this respect, we recommend that a public accounting standards body be set up similar to and perhaps a part of the Dutch Accounting Standards Board to work out and harmonise accounting standards.
The minister sees our audit as a valuable addition to her own evaluation of the Autonomous Administrative Authorities Framework Act. In her response she observed that the government's intention had never been to create a uniform ZBO field. She also noted that accountability for regularity and efficiency required specific tailoring.