The OECD Review of Better Regulation in Ireland is one of a series of country reports launched by the OECD in partnership with the European Commission. The objective is to assess regulatory management capacities in the 15 original member states of the European Union (EU), including trends in their development, and to identify gaps in relation to good practice as defined by the OECD and the EU in their guidelines and policies for Better Regulation.
Abbreviations and Acronyms
The OECD’s 2010 Economic Survey of Ireland recorded that growth in GDP per capita had been among the highest in the OECD until the economic downturn. In the wake of the financial crisis, the economy plunged into a severe recession in 2008. The sharp slowdown in activity contrasts with the rapid expansion from 2002 to 2007. The downturn has revealed a weak underlying fiscal position. The authorities have already taken important steps to restore stability, but more will need to be done and the adjustment will be prolonged. Major economic and policy adjustments are now taking place to address the situation. Better Regulation has an important part to play in this process. Regulatory as well as policy failures were a fundamental factor underlying the downturn. This implies that beyond the sector specific actions that are needed in complex sectors such as banking, the application of general regulatory policy principles such as ex ante impact analysis of regulations, public consultation and robust institutional frameworks need to be vigorously promoted.
The current review of Ireland reflects contributions from the Irish government and discussions at meetings held in Dublin on 24 September and 2-6 November 2009 by an OECD peer review team with Irish officials and external stakeholders. Major initiatives and developments since this mission are referenced in the report, but have not been evaluated.
Strategy and policies for Better Regulation
Regulatory policy may be defined broadly as an explicit, dynamic, and consistent "whole of government" policy to pursue high quality regulation. A key part of the OECD’s 2005 Guiding Principles for Regulatory Quality and Performance is that countries adopt broad programmes of regulatory reform that establish principles of "good regulation", as well as a framework for implementation. Experience across the OECD suggests that an effective regulatory policy should be adopted at the highest political levels, contain explicit and measurable regulatory quality standards, and provide for continued regulatory management capacity. Effective communication to stakeholders is of growing importance to secure ongoing support for regulatory quality work. A key issue relates to stakeholders’ perceptions of regulatory achievements (business, for example, may continue to complain about regulatory issues that are better managed than previously). Governments are accountable for the often significant resources as well as political capital invested in regulatory management systems. There is a growing interest in the systematic evaluation of regulatory management performance – "measuring the gap" between regulatory policies as set out in principle and their efficiency and effectiveness in practice. How do specific institutions, tools and processes perform? What contributes to their effective design? The systematic application of ex post evaluation and measurement techniques can provide part of the answer and help to strengthen the framework. E-Government is an important support tool for Better Regulation. It permeates virtually all aspects of regulatory policy from consultation and communication to stakeholders, to the effective development of strategies addressing administrative burdens, and not least as a means of disseminating Better Regulation policies, best practices, and guidance across government, including local levels. Whilst a full evaluation of this aspect is beyond the scope of this exercise and would be inappropriate, the report makes a few comments that may prove helpful for a more in-depth analysis.
Institutional capacities for Better Regulation
Regulatory management needs to find its place in a country’s institutional architecture, and have support from all the relevant institutions. The institutional framework within which Better Regulation must exert influence extends well beyond the executive centre of government, although this is the main starting point. The legislature and the judiciary, regulatory agencies and the subnational levels of government, as well as international structures (notably, for this project, the EU), also play critical roles in the development, implementation and enforcement of policies and regulations. The parliament may initiate new primary legislation, and proposals from the executive rarely if ever become law without integrating the changes generated by parliamentary scrutiny. The judiciary may have the role of constitutional guardian, and is generally responsible for ensuring that the executive acts within its proper authority, as well as playing an important role in the interpretation and enforcement of regulations. Regulatory agencies and subnational levels of government may exercise a range of regulatory responsibilities. They may be responsible (variously) for the development of secondary regulations, issue guidance on regulations, have discretionary powers to interpret regulations, enforce regulations, as well as influencing the development of the overall policy and regulatory framework. What role should each actor have, taking into account accountability, feasibility, and balance across government? What is the best way to secure effective institutional oversight of Better Regulation policies? The OECD’s previous country reviews highlight the fact that the institutional context for implanting effective regulatory management is complex and often highly fragmented. Approaches need to be customised, as countries’ institutional settings and legal systems can be very specific, ranging from systems adapted to small societies with closely knit governments that rely on trust and informality, to large federal systems that must find ways of dealing with high levels of autonomy and diversity. Continuous training and capacity building within government, supported by adequate financial resources, contributes to the effective application of Better Regulation. Beyond the technical need for training in certain processes such as impact assessment or plain drafting, training communicates the message to administrators that this is an important issue, recognised as such by the administrative and political hierarchy. It can be seen as a measure of the political commitment to Better Regulation. It also fosters a sense of ownership for reform initiatives, and enhances co-ordination and regulatory coherence.
Transparency through consultation and communication
Transparency is one of the central pillars of effective regulation, supporting accountability, sustaining confidence in the legal environment, making regulations more secure and accessible, less influenced by special interests, and therefore more open to competition, trade and investment. It involves a range of actions including standardised procedures for making and changing regulations, consultation with stakeholders, effective communication and publication of regulations and plain language drafting, codification, controls on administrative discretion, and effective appeals processes. It can involve a mix of formal and informal processes. Techniques such as common commencement dates (CCDs) can make it easier for business to digest regulatory requirements. The contribution of e-Government to improve transparency, consultation and communication is of growing importance. This chapter focuses on two main elements of transparency: public consultation and communication on regulations (other aspects are considered elsewhere in the text, for example appeals are considered in Chapter 6)
The development of new regulations
Predictable and systematic procedures for making regulations improve the transparency of the regulatory system and the quality of decisions. These include forward planning (the periodic listing of forthcoming regulations), administrative procedures for the management of rule-making, and procedures to secure the legal quality of new regulations (including training and guidance for legal drafting, plain language drafting, and oversight by expert bodies). Ex ante impact assessment of new regulations is one of the most important regulatory tools available to governments. Its aim is to assist policy makers in adopting the most efficient and effective regulatory options (including the "no regulation" option), using evidence-based techniques to justify the best option and identify the trade-offs involved when pursuing different policy objectives. The costs of regulations should not exceed their benefits, and alternatives should also be examined. However, the deployment of impact assessment is often resisted or poorly applied, for a variety of reasons, ranging from a political concern that it may substitute for policy making (not true – impact assessment is a tool that helps to ensure a policy which has already been identified and agreed is supported by effective regulations, if they are needed), to the demands that it makes on already hard pressed officials. There is no single remedy to these issues. However experience around the OECD shows that a strong and coherent focal point with adequate resourcing helps to ensure that impact assessment finds an appropriate and timely place in the policy and rule-making process, and helps to raise the quality of assessments. Effective consultation needs to be an integral part of impact assessment. Impact assessment processes have – or should have – a close link with general consultation processes for the development of new regulations. There is also an important potential link with the measurement of administrative burdens (use of the Standard Cost Model technique can contribute to the benefit-cost analysis for an effective impact assessment). The use of a wide range of mechanisms, not just traditional "command and control" regulation, for meeting policy goals helps to ensure that the most efficient and effective approaches are used. Experience shows that governments must lead strongly on this to overcome inbuilt inertia and risk aversion. The first response to a problem is often still to regulate. The range of alternative approaches is broad, from voluntary agreements, standardisation, conformity assessment, to self regulation in sectors such as corporate governance, financial markets and professional services such as accounting. At the same time care must be taken when deciding to use "soft" approaches such as self regulation, to ensure that regulatory quality is maintained. An issue that is attracting increasing attention for the development of new regulations is risk management. Regulation is a fundamental tool for managing the risks present in society and the economy, and can help to reduce the incidence of hazardous events and their severity. A few countries have started to explore how rule-making can better reflect the need to assess and manage risks appropriately.
The management and rationalisation of existing regulations
This chapter covers two areas of regulatory policy. The first is simplification of regulations. The large stock of regulations and administrative formalities accumulated over time needs regular review and updating to remove obsolete or inefficient material. Approaches vary from consolidation, codification, recasting, repeal, ad hoc reviews of the regulations covering specific sectors, and sun setting mechanisms for the automatic review or cancellation of regulations past a certain date. The second area concerns the reduction of administrative burdens and has gained considerable momentum over the last few years. Government formalities are important tools to support public policies, and can help businesses by setting a level playing field for commercial activity. But they may also represent an administrative burden as well as an irritation factor for business and citizens, and one which tends to grow over time. Difficult areas include employment regulations, environmental standards, tax regulations, and planning regulations. Permits and licences can also be a major potential burden on businesses, especially SMEs. A lack of clear information about the sources of and extent of administrative burdens is the first issue for most countries. Burden measurement has been improved with the application by a growing number of countries of variants on the standard cost model (SCM) analysis to information obligations imposed by laws, which also helps to sustain political momentum for regulatory reform by quantifying the burden.1 A number of governments have started to consider the issue of administrative burdens inside government, with the aim of improving the quality and efficiency of internal regulation in order to reduce costs and free up resources for improved public service delivery. Regulation inside government refers to the regulations imposed by the state on its own administrators and public service providers (for example government agencies or local government service providers). Fiscal restraints may preclude the allocation of increased resources to the bureaucracy, and a better approach is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the regulations imposed on administrators and public service providers. The effective deployment of e-Government is of increasing importance as a tool for reducing the costs and burdens of regulation on businesses and citizens, as well as inside government.
Compliance, enforcement, appeals
Whilst adoption and communication of a law sets the framework for achieving a policy objective, effective implementation, compliance and enforcement are essential for actually meeting the objective. An ex ante assessment of compliance and enforcement prospects is increasingly a part of the regulatory process in OECD countries. Within the EU's institutional context these processes include the correct transposition of EU rules into national legislation (this aspect will be considered in Chapter 7). The issue of proportionality in enforcement, linked to risk assessment, is attracting growing attention. The aim is to ensure that resources for enforcement should be proportionately higher for those activities, actions or entities where the risks of regulatory failure are more damaging to society and the economy (and conversely, proportionately lower in situations assessed as lower risk). Rule-makers must apply and enforce regulations systematically and fairly, and regulated citizens and businesses need access to administrative and judicial review procedures for raising issues related to the rules that bind them, as well as timely decisions on their appeals. Tools that may be deployed include administrative procedures acts, the use of independent and standardised appeals processes,1 and the adoption of rules to promote responsiveness, such as "silence is consent".2 Access to review procedures ensures that rule-makers are held accountable. Review by the judiciary of administrative decisions can also be an important instrument of quality control. For example, scrutiny by the judiciary may capture whether subordinate rules are consistent with the primary laws, and may help to assess whether rules are proportional to their objective.
The interface between member states and the European Union
An increasing proportion of national regulations originate at EU level. Whilst EU regulations1 have direct application in member states and do not have to be transposed into national regulations, EU directives need to be transposed, raising the issue of how to ensure that the regulations implementing EU legislation are fully coherent with the underlying policy objectives, do not create new barriers to the smooth functioning of the EU Single Market and avoid "gold plating" and the placing of unnecessary burdens on business and citizens. Transposition also needs to be timely, to minimise the risk of uncertainty as regards the state of the law, especially for business. The national (and subnational) perspective on how the production of regulations is managed in Brussels itself is important. Better Regulation policies, including impact assessment, have been put in place by the European Commission to improve the quality of EU law. The view from "below" on the effectiveness of these policies may be a valuable input to improving them further.
The interface between subnational and national levels of government
Multilevel regulatory governance – that is to say, taking into account the rule-making and rule-enforcement activities of all the different levels of government, not just the national level – is another core element of effective regulatory management. The OECD’s 2005 Guiding Principles for Regulatory Quality and Performance "encourage Better Regulation at all levels of government, improved co-ordination, and the avoidance of overlapping responsibilities among regulatory authorities and levels of government". It is relevant to all countries that are seeking to improve their regulatory management, whether they are federations, unitary states or somewhere in between. In many countries local governments are entrusted with a large number of complex tasks, covering important parts of the welfare system and public services such as social services, health care and education, as well as housing, planning and building issues, and environmental protection. Licensing can be a key activity at this level. These issues have a direct impact on the welfare of businesses and citizens. Local governments within the boundaries of a state need increasing flexibility to meet economic, social and environmental goals in their particular geographical and cultural setting. At the same time, they may be taking on a growing responsibility for the implementation of EC regulations. All of this requires a pro active consideration of: • The allocation/sharing of regulatory responsibilities at the different levels of government (which can be primary rule-making responsibilities; secondary rule-making responsibilities based on primary legislation, or the transposition of EC regulations; responsibilities for supervision/enforcement of national or subnational regulations; or responsibilities for service delivery). • The capacities of these different levels to produce quality regulation. • The co-ordination mechanisms between the different levels, and across the same levels.
Judicial Review is a mechanism by which an affected party can ask the High Court to rule on the legality of the actions of public bodies when exercising public law functions. This remedy assists in ensuring that the actions of public authorities have a proper legal basis. Persons adversely affected by the action of a public body may apply to the court for an appropriate remedy.
Add to Marked List