It’s crazy that businesses in the Netherlands are going to have to pay for the digital government drive, which generates revenue for them!

It was in the news this weekend. Businesses are going to have to pay to file their taxes. It’s of course a good thing that a statement has been made on this issue. It’s also strange that, in order to do have dealings with the government, a commercial enterprise has to spend serious money (from €41 a year) in order to set up an account (to purchase a so-called resource). After all, the banks don’t ask you to buy an identifier to conduct your digital transactions (which are incidentally cheaper for the bank).

Of course, it’s the timing of this discussion that makes it newsworthy. Last week the WDO (The Dutch Digital Government Law) is on the agenda in the Dutch House of Representatives, hopefully for the last time. The act is intended to form the basis upon which the government can take important steps in the area of further digitisation. This basis begins (quite rightly) with the reliable identification of citizens and businesses. This is currently not always the case. DigiD, government-led Dutch electronic identity scheme, is still not secure enough (more of this another time perhaps), and for businesses and organisations needing to communicate digitally with a government institution there is yet no real clear minimum reliability level that they have to comply with.

ERecognition, or “eHerkenning”, has been around for more than a decade. And it’s been known for years that there are charges for this service. It’s also common knowledge that these are commercial providers, that have to operate strictly within the limits of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK), the owner of eRecognition. So, why the ‘surprise’ about eRecognition now?

I think the problem is two-fold. Firstly, the ‘business model’ doesn’t hold. It’s crazy that businesses are going to have to pay for the digital government drive which will ultimately generate income.  Why don’t you let the tax authorities pay for the use of eRecognition, as is the case with iDIN (the electronic identity issued by the Dutch banks, the “sister application” of iDEAL), with a payment for ‘the resource’ in the tariff? The more the resource is used, the lower the required payment, so that costs don’t rocket. That way, businesses wouldn’t have to pay for the acquisition costs of that resource.

Secondly, BZK suffers from a serious ‘ivory-tower’ mentality. Despite all kinds of so-called ‘consultations’, there is little communication with the real market. This means BZK is not sufficiently up to date on what’s happening in the market and has no idea how to anticipate events there. In contrast to many other ministries, BZK also has no executive body, for instance a subdivision like the UWV (Netherlands Employee Insurance Agency), to take responsibility for operational business processes. A responsibility which, if it is carried-out well, also brings with it a certain degree of realism. BZK has failed to predict how the market would react in this case, and the lobbyists are doing their job, hence the well-timed media coverage. 

The sad thing is, it looks as if the tax authorities are to blame again, whereas they are actually doing all the legwork for BZK by making the use of eRecognition mandatory now already. Of course, they’ve jumped the gun in this case, but if it is left to BZK, it will shortly be mandatory for the entire government, and they’ll be landed with the costs as well. And then the news item won’t be quite as kind.

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