Dutch Code for Good Public Administration

Principles of proper public administration, published by the central government of The Netherlands in June 2009


BY JACK P. KRUF | AUGUST 2022

In finding the tone of the city it is essential to determine the character and quality of the governmental navigation by the involved and responsible actors as well as the objects of governance (citizens, businesses and society). Which criteria could possibly be developed to measure and monitor. In 2009 in The Netherlands the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations published a set of usable principles in the form of a code.

Minister Dr G. ter Horst in her foreword: “In The Netherlands, the principles of the democratic constitutional state form the framework for our functioning. Citizens and government must give substance to them together. The government cannot do this without the citizens; the citizens cannot do this without the government. This reciprocity requires the right balance of rights and duties between citizens on the one hand, and the government on the other.

The rights and duties of citizens are laid down in formal laws and regulations. In addition, the Charter on Responsible Citizenship makes an informal, moral appeal to citizens to be active and responsible members of society.

There are also many formal laws and regulations governing the functioning of public administration. Precisely because of their formal nature, these laws and regulations do not necessarily invite self-reflection. As a result, we would almost lose sight of why we have all these laws and regulations: to meet social needs within the framework of the democratic constitutional state.

The Code of Good Public Administration sets out the basic principles of good public administration in our democratic constitutional state. It is an informal instrument that appeals to the individual responsibility of administrations to conscientiously fulfil their tasks and responsibilities in public administration. It invites self-reflection and translation into daily practice.

I ask that special attention be given to integrity. We can lay down as much as we like in formal laws and regulations and informal codes; ultimately, the individual and collective integrity of directors is essential. Just like the individual and collective integrity of those who control them. Unfortunately, even in public administration there are occasional examples of lack of integrity and the negative consequences thereof.

It is precisely the people who fulfil individual and collective tasks and responsibilities in public administration, who serve all of our interests; it is precisely they who must set a good example. This is how we earn the citizens’ trust in the government. This is how we stimulate active and responsible citizenship. This is how government and citizens together can give substance to the functioning of our democratic constitutional state.”

Introduction

Good public administration is essential for the functioning of our democratic constitutional state. Without good public administration, there cannot be a healthy interaction between government and society and the government cannot meet social needs.

This code describes what good public administration means for the boards of individual organisations in the public administration in the Netherlands, both at central and decentralised level.

Good public administration, even in a prosperous and developed country such as the Netherlands, is not a matter of course. Even the fact that political and social interests are democratically legitimated does not offer an absolute guarantee in this respect. This code urges boards of organisations in public administration to make and keep alive the principles of good governance in their daily practice, and offers a frame of reference for others to call them to account on this.

The code does not contain any legally enforceable standards. There is already a great deal of legislation and regulation regulating government action, including the general principles of good governance. The values underlying these laws and regulations are made explicit in the code. They are the shared values on which public administration operates. The code invites people to translate these values into their own situation and to take action: to actively disseminate them within and outside the organisation, to set an example and to be accountable for good governance. Existing initiatives can be used for this purpose.

The principles should be seen in connection with each other. In practice, principles will sometimes need to be weighed against each other. For example, a legitimate decision need not always be the most effective decision. It is important that boards make their considerations consciously and are open about them. The public interest always comes first: public administration is there for and on behalf of citizens.

Good public administration requires maintenance and continuous attention. The code ‘lives’ when boards apply it conscientiously and report on it publicly on a regular basis.

Principles

    1. Openness and integrity: The board is open and honest and makes it clear what it means by this. The board sets a good example in its behaviour, both within the organisation and externally.
    2. Participation: The board knows what is going on in society and shows what it does with this. 
    3. Appropriate contacts with citizens: The board ensures that itself and the organisation behave properly in contacts with citizens.
    4. Goal-orientation and efficiency: The board announces the goals of the organisation and takes the decisions and measures necessary to achieve the goals set.
    5. Legitimacy: The board takes the decisions and measures it is entitled to take and which are in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations. The decisions can be justified.
    6. Learning and self-cleansing ability: The board improves its performance and that of the organisation, and organises the organisation accordingly.
    7. Accountability: The board is prepared to regularly and generously account for its actions to those around it.