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The limits of open government

The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in the Netherlands is being flooded with applications for information under the Dutch Public Access to Government Information Act (WOB) and according to Minister Hugo de Jonge is unable to provide the information on time. News programme Nieuwsuur has been waiting for more than a year for documents. Does the Ministry have a point? And what are the limits of open government?

The argument that it is unworkable having to deal with all so-called WOB applications is nonsense, according to Wim Voermans in Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant. The standard time limit for responding to WOB applications in the Netherlands is four weeks. This can be extended to eight weeks, but only with very good reason – one of the longest time limits in Europe. The NOS’s WOB application was submitted seventeen months ago, so that is seven times the permitted time limit.

Applications for information under the WOB Act have been submitted since 1980. Government organisations should have long been set up so that they are able to adequately deal with applications. But still today, 71 per cent of applications are not dealt with within the time limit. The Ministry’s way of operating is not in accordance with the law.

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