E-government in social security sector, Belgium
Over the last 10 years, Belgium has developed and pioneered a policy of electronic collection and exchange of administrative data in its social security system. It is believed that specific measures seeking to spread electronic government processes (e-government) throughout all bodies involved in the social security system could strengthen measures seeking to combat social and fiscal fraud. On 2 July 2008, the country’s Council of Ministers launched its first global action plan seeking to combat social and fiscal fraud in Belgium.
Belgium appears to be the first European country to have implemented a system of generalised electronic declaration in the social security sector. Since 1990, the country’s social security institutions have been collaborating in an electronic network, which is coordinated by the Crossroads Bank for Social Security (Banque Carrefour de la Sécurité Sociale/Kruispuntbank van de Sociale Zekerheid, BCSS/KSZ). The Belgian government asked the BCSS/KSZ to develop an electronic government (e-government) plan for the federal public services. This process has led to a successful combination of back office integration involving some 2,000 social security institutions, along with an e-portal solution that would serve as a model of good practice for all of Europe. In terms of combating fraud, e-government provides a good starting point for implementing adequate checks. However, the responsibility for combating fraud depends mainly on good quality checks and deterrent sanctions.
Launched in 1999, the e-government initiative is based on a clear vision of strategic information management. The plan, which is now being executed and updated on an ongoing basis by the Federal Public Service for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) (Federale Overheidsdienst Informatie- en Communicatietechnologie, FEDICT), includes a number of key elements, including:
- the creation of an electronic identity card;
- a company register;
- a messaging engine between the federal public services;
- an integrated portal environment.
Such measures have to be placed in a global e-government framework, characterised by the gradual development of a network of service integrators.
In total, about 3,000 public and private institutions are responsible for the provision of social security and social protection in Belgium. More than 10 million citizens and 230,000 employers frequently have to deal with these actors to provide information and pay their social security contributions. The BCSS/KSZ will continue to extend its services to other actors in the social sector. The back office integration is continuously being extended to all public social welfare centres, along with the institutions of the communities and regions, the municipalities and cities, and healthcare professionals. About 40 new types of electronic messages are being planned.
On 2 July 2008, the Belgian Council of Ministers approved a first global action plan aiming to combat social and fiscal fraud. The central objective is to improve the coordination of the different services involved in this system as well as the use of existing electronic data. The plan addresses some 50 major action points. It also foresees the implementation of a follow-up policy, accompanied by a system of effective penalties.
The need for improving the exchange of information between administrations was identified. The service’s two platforms of consultation play a key role in this objective: that is, the GENESIS data platform, which gathers evidence from national enquiries for social inspection services, and the DOLSIS platform.
Smals, an enterprise which supports and supervises the country’s e-government programme, implements in a concrete way the projects coordinated between the various social security inspection services in Belgium; it also matches the means of action used by the various bodies involved in social security inspection in Belgium. These bodies are: the National Office for Social Security (Office National de Sécurité Sociale/Rijkdienst voor Sociale Zekerheid, ONSS/RSZ), the Federal Public Service Social Security (Service Public Fédéral Sécurité Sociale/Federale Overheidsdienst Sociale Zekerheid), the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (Service Public Fédéral Emploi, Travail et Concertation Sociale/Federale Overheidsdienst Werkelegenheid, Arbeid en Sociaal Overleg, SPF/FOD) and the National Employment Office (Office National de l’Emploi/Rijkdienst voor Arbeidsvoorziening, ONEM/RVA).
Evaluation and outcome
Achievement of objectives
Prior to the introduction of the e-government programme for Belgium’s social security system, a number of shortcomings were evident, such as the lack of necessary tools for employers to check the quality of information reported to the social security offices (Robben, Maes and Quintin, 2007). By implementing a network for mutual electronic service delivery, all actors can simultaneously consult their databases and exchange information in an efficient and secure way. The systems developed through e-government work effectively, involving only a small administrative burden and the extensive use of modern technologies. The electronic data exchange ensures a more efficient combating of social security fraud and guarantees the privacy of data. Personal information is only accessible to authorised institutions and users according to business needs, or legislative or policy requirements.
Obstacles and problems
In Belgium’s social security and fiscal administrations, there is an increased emphasis on intensifying efforts to combat fraud through more integrated and targeted actions, and data mining. Nevertheless, a serious problem remains in relation to enforcement and the legal sanctions (Pacolet, 2007). Furthermore, the collaboration between federal and regional administrations and statistical offices needs to be reinforced through further simplification, control and enforcement by the government.
About 50 types of social security declaration forms have been abolished since the introduction of the electronic delivery system. In the remaining 30 social security declaration forms, the number of headings has been reduced on average to a third of the previous number (Robben et al, 2007). According to a study conducted by the Belgian Federal Planning Bureau (Bureau Fédéral du Plan), the rationalisation of the data exchange processes between the employers and the social security offices implies an annual saving of administrative costs amounting to over €1 billion a year for employers. In addition, public services have begun to understand the operational significance of data mining, which permits more specific and efficient controls (Pacolet, Perelman, Pestieau and Baeyens, 2007).
In a report on ‘Science policy’, Pacolet, Perelman, Pestieau and Baeyens (June 2007) demonstrated on one hand the increased numbers of staff involved in checking, the higher number of checking activities including coordination activities, and the concentration of these efforts on certain activities and industries, such as construction. On the other hand, such a concentration of activities can mean that other sectors fail to be controlled. Their study also demonstrates the stagnation in checking and control outcomes, along with the persistence in the same levels of compliance (no recent statistics available).
The Belgian e-government initiative could be used as a starting point for a pan-European social security service of this kind.
Main organisation responsible:
Federal Ministry of Social Security, Website: www.socialsecurity.fgov.be
Pacolet, J., Undeclared work and the fight against it in Belgium, European Employment Observatory, May 2007.
Pacolet, J. and Baeyens, K., La concurrence déloyale dans le secteur de la construction. Reconnaissance de terrain en matière de mécanismes de fraude sociale, leur étendue et leurs conséquences pour le secteur de la construction, Higher Institute for Labour Studies (HIVA), Leuven, 2007.
Pacolet, J., Perelman ,S., Pestieau, P. and Baeyens, K., Un indicateur de l’étendue et de l’évolution du travail au noir en Belgique, SPF de Programmation Politique Scientifique et le SPF Emploi, Travail et Concertation Sociale, 15 June 2007.
Trends Tendances, Carl Devlies: Tous unis contre la fraude sociale et fiscale, 4 July 2008.
Robben, F., Maes, P. and Quintin, E., ‘E-governement programme of the Belgian Social Security’, in Anttiroiko, A-V. and Mälkiä, M. (eds.), Encyclopedia of digital government, Volume II E-F, Idea Group Reference, London and Singapore, 2007, pp. 564–570.
Website of Frank Robben, General Manager of Crossroads Bank for Social Security: www.law.kuleuven.be/icri/frobben.
Pierre Tilly, Institute for Labour Studies (IST), Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)