Supervision of lower-tier authorities

The Revitalisation of General Supervision Act has simplified supervision of municipal authorities by provincial councils.

Simpler and more transparent

Over the years, countless instruments have been developed for the supervision of lower-tier authorities by higher authorities. This has made the system complex and bureaucratic. The Revitalisation of General Supervision Act, which came into force on 1 October 2012, has put an end to most of the separate provisions on supervision. The result is a simpler and more transparent form of supervision. The Act is based on confidence in the authority’s ability to perform its task well, and on confidence in the effectiveness of accountability within a tier of government. So the municipal executive gives proper account of its activities to the  municipal council and the provincial executive to the provincial council. Under these conditions, this kind of supervision can be carried out with restraint. The Act is also based on the principle that municipal and provincial authorities only need to deliver reporting information once. That information can then be used for several purposes. This means government ministries and national inspectorates need to change their own role and work methods.

Supervision of municipal authorities

Municipal authorities have dealings with different supervisory authorities depending on the policy area. Following recent changes, the provincial authorities now supervise municipal authorities with regard to spatial planning, construction, the natural environment, housing, monuments and the structural safety of buildings and other works.

Central government still supervises municipal authorities in those areas for which provinces have neither a remit nor expertise, like education and social affairs.

Supervision of provincial authorities

Central government still supervises provincial authorities’ implementation of ‘joint administration’ tasks.

Interventions by the supervisory body

The sole purpose of supervision is to check whether lower-tier authorities are implementing their statutory joint administration tasks. It is not concerned with the quality of administration. The supervisory body only intervenes when statutory joint administration tasks are not implemented correctly or in full, or if the lower authority’s decisions are in conflict with the public interest or with the law. In these cases, the supervisory body can:

  • decide to intervene due to the neglect of official duties: if a municipal or provincial authority neglects to fulfil a joint administration task, the supervisory body may intervene and take over that task;
  • suspend and annul decisions: if a decision by a municipal or provincial authority is in conflict with the law or with the public interest, it may be suspended and/or annulled by royal decree.

Any decision to intervene must be preceded by an ‘intervention ladder’ made up of six steps. The first step is for the supervisory body to identify the problem and the last is its decision to actually use its power to intervene.

Specific forms of supervision abolished

Specific forms of supervision haves have been abolished, except:

  • Interdependence between tiers of government for implementation purposes. This concerns tasks for which the supervisory body bears operational responsibility under statute, but whose implementation depends entirely on subnational authorities (e.g. the safety regions).
  • Supervision of water authorities. Provincial authorities must incorporate the tasks of the regional water authorities into general provincial policy, so it is necessary to retain specific provisions on their supervision of the water authorities.

Online accountability of municipal authorities’ performance

Supervisory bodies need information in order to assess whether municipal authorities are complying with legal requirements. They can find this information on the website