Ministries fined more than 1.5 million for late Wob orders

Over the past three years, the court has imposed more than €2 million in penalty fines on Dutch ministries after they overstayed the documents required in Wob’s application. Over a million and a half of it was eventually paid out. This is evident from the overview of the Ministry of the Interior, requested by MP Peter Umtzigt. This states the times a judge has fined a department for failing to meet the time in which a Wob request must be answered (since May 1 is called a Woo request).

In response to parliamentary questions, Home Secretary Bruins Sloot said last month that ministries were experiencing delays in processing Wob’s requests, because providing information to the government was significantly behind. This is why it takes so long before all the documents are collected. According to the minister, it often takes a long time because privacy sensitive information has to be painted black and consultations must also take place with third parties mentioned in the documents. “These are time-consuming processes, especially when large amounts of information are involved,” the minister said.

Also the highest penalty

The Department of Agriculture received most of the periodic fine payments. According to the Interior Ministry, the judge ruled 85 times between 2019 and 2021 in cases where farming exceeded the time that Wob’s application should be processed — between 4 and 8 weeks.

Other ministries have been less reprimanded by the courts in the past three years; Infrastructure and water management (29), public health (25), justice and security (21), finance (8), economic and home affairs (5), social affairs (3) and foreign affairs (2). Fines range from hundreds to tens of thousands of euros. These amounts are paid to the person submitting the Wob application.

The highest penalty was also imposed on the Ministry of Agriculture. She had to pay 75 thousand euros because she could not deliver the required documents on time, because according to the ministry the demand was too much and there was not enough “capacity”. As per the overview, this fine was not paid. Of the total of more than two million euros in fine payments imposed by the judge on ministries, nearly 1.3 million euros was for agriculture. The ministry has not yet paid 260,000 euros in fines.

Few requests compared to other countries

An agriculture spokesperson says farming is struggling with the huge amount of Wob orders. Some requests are directed to the Dutch Consumer Product and Food Safety Authority. According to the spokesman, the ministry is in a difficult situation: “The ministry has attracted a lot of attention in recent years due to the nitrogen crisis and the concern for animal welfare, but we are a small department.” To solve this problem, the ministry is trying to improve IT systems and hire more people to process Wob requests, in order to be able to submit requests for “large and complex” information faster.

These are two important steps for resolving the backlog of information in government, believes Serv Wiemers, director of the Open State Foundation (OSF), an organization that strives for more transparent government data. According to Wiemers, it can’t be because of the amount of orders. The research by OSF shows that, compared to other countries, such as the UK, relatively few Wob applications are lodged nationally in the Netherlands.

blocking pattern

But what is particularly necessary, according to Wiemers, is for politicians to approach Wob’s request in a very different way. “You should view Wob’s request as a sign of society’s willingness to watch, not a sign of social distrust. Government serves society, not itself. Government should assume that all government information can one day become public.”

MP Omtzigt would also be pleased with the turnaround. The government has a pattern of withholding documents. For example, court cases in which fines are imposed are not public. I dare not assume that the list given by the Minister is complete. Is this the new management culture? ”

Read also:

Postponement after postponement: Is the government’s growing reluctance to disclose information?

The Open Government Act is in effect for a number of months. However, many governments have recently been in the news with violating the right to information. Is political unwillingness increasing?

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Megan Vasquez

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