Provinces, municipalities and water authorities

Public administration in the Netherlands has four tiers: central government, the provinces, the municipalities and the water authorities.


The provinces receive money from central government to manage nature areas, build and maintain cycle paths, oversee provincial public transport, and provide services in the areas of young people, the arts and culture. Like the municipalities, the provinces are increasingly performing tasks that were previously in the hands of central government. The present Government wants the provinces to concentrate on spatial planning, the provincial economy and nature conservation. The provinces work together in the Association of Provincial Authorities (IPO).

Each province has a provincial executive and council, both of which are chaired by a King’s commissioner, who is a member of the executive but not of the council. Provincial councils consist of directly elected representatives. The King’s commissioner, who is appointed by the King for a period of six years, represents central government in the province.

Just as the municipal executive administers the municipality, the provincial executive administers the province.

Water authorities

A water authority is a public authority responsible for water management in a specific geographical area. A water authority is administered by an executive board, which is appointed by a directly elected general council. Both bodies are chaired by the same person, known as a dijkgraaf. In Dutch, a water authority is generally called a waterschap, but some water authorities use the names heemraad or hoogheemraad.

The water authorities manage natural water systems and protect residents from flooding. Their experts keep dykes safe and ensure the supply of clean water.


The municipality is the tier of government closest to the people. To apply for a Dutch passport, for instance, or register a new address, you have to go to a municipal office to do so.

Each municipality has an executive, consisting of a mayor and aldermen. The mayor chairs the municipal executive and the municipal council.The mayor of the municipality is responsible for public order and safety in the municipality. He has to respond to and prevent nuisance and disorder. He may for instance prohibit public gatherings if he is unable to guarantee safety in the area.