Annual Report 2015: public administration must serve all citizens

presentation annual report - Reinier van Zutphen

Public administration must serve all citizens, from the public's perspective. Things go wrong as soon as public authorities are unable to put themselves sufficiently in the place of the citizen. This is particularly true of people who are not self-reliant and depend on public authorities to resolve their problems.

The National Ombudsman draws these conclusions in his annual report on 2015. Legislation, policy changes and alterations to how policy is implemented can unintentionally have major consequences for members of the public. The Ombudsman advocates public administration having greater regard at an early stage to the public’s perspective, because 'public administration is there for citizens and not the other way round'. The Ombudsman received more than 38,147 complaints in 2015, almost two thousand more than in 2014.

The National Ombudsman noted that public administration landed members of the public in problems in 2015 by failing to give sufficient attention to their specific situation. 'For public authorities everybody must fit into a standard category', says Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen. In his study into detentions (October 2015), the cooperating public authorities acknowledged that an insufficient picture existed of the often multiple problems of individual citizens. The Ombudsman received thousands of complaints about discontinuation of postal correspondence by the Dutch Revenue Service from people who are unwilling or unable to switch to the Revenue’s digital service.

Learning government

In a study entitled ‘Individual care budgets and the learning/non-learning government’ (September  2015), the Ombudsman concluded that the government had insufficiently examined the introduction of major, complex changes. Reinier van Zutphen: 'So it is important to learn from situations where things could have been done better. Public authorities must look beyond their own fences. They need to look at other public authorities, but also get a picture of the ordinary person, or the public’s perspective.'

Ombudsman for Veterans

In his capacity as the Ombudsman for Veterans, the National Ombudsman received 137 complaints from veterans in 2015 (compared with 101 in 2014). The complaints mainly concerned the Ministry of Defence. An increasing number of young veterans are turning to the Ombudsman for help. In 2015 the Ombudsman for Veterans gave rulings in such matters as after-care for Afghanistan veterans and discharge after the use of drugs. Another point of concern for the Ombudsman was the long time it takes for the Ministry of Defence to deal with complaints.