Efficacy and service
Authorities have to aim to treat citizens well, be available and give citizens service in an efficient way. As an employee, you need to understand why it is important to manage central government funds prudently.
"Central government activities shall aim for a high degree of efficiency and observe good economic management"- Chapter 1, Section 3 of the Budget Act
Efficacy is about managing government funds prudently, but it is also about processing matters simply, rapidly and with sufficient quality. The requirement for efficacy is set out in ordinary laws and ordinances. So the principles in the Instrument of Government that we dealt with in previous sections take precedence over the principle of efficacy.
The efforts of authorities to be efficient must therefore be weighed against the fact that, as an employee, you also have to fulfil other requirements in the basic values of central government. In other words, you have to be quick and cost-effective, but efficiency must not mean that you neglect the rules about impartiality, investigation or communication with involved parties when processing matters.
It is difficult to give a general answer to the question of what is a reasonable balance between low cost and rapid processing, on the one hand, and efficiency and legal certainty, on the other. This depends on aspects including the authority’s mission and how the decision or measure affects the individual.
All government authorities are obliged to provide service, be accessible and collaborate
As a government employee, you have to provide service, be
accessible and collaborate. This applies to all authorities, including the courts when they process administrative matters. The requirements apply to all administrative activities, but there are also even more detailed rules when it comes to processing cases and making decisions. There is, for instance, a special rule that a party in a matter has the right to access the supporting information for the authority’s decision.
The rules governing the obligation to provide service and to collaborate are framed in terms of objectives and are therefore almost never examined in court. However, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has criticised authorities on many occasions for failings in their service obligation. Time is a very important aspect in these cases. An authority must normally provide service straight away if it is to fulfil its function. For instance, in conjunction with a procurement an authority must answer the questions that tenderers have before the deadline expires.
It is important that authorities do not see the service obligation as something secondary, and since 2018 there are also stricter rules in the Administrative Procedure Act about delays in processing. Among them are rules that private persons have the right to know why the processing of their matter is delayed and that, if more than six months have elapsed, the private person can request that the matter be determined.
In your work as a central government employee, a shortage of resources is never a valid reason for refraining completely from helping a private person. The service must be adapted to each case, and it can sometimes be difficult to know what a reasonable level is. As an authority employee, you have to decide how much service is appropriate in the specific case and how the authority has to allocate its resources. One point that may seem obvious is that you also have to express yourself in a way that is easy to understand. The Language Act (2009:600) says that Swedish has to be the authorities’ main language and that you have to strive to use plain language.
The service obligation does not, for instance, include you giving advice that a lawyer with expertise in a certain area can give. In fact, giving too detailed advice might risk your and your authority’s impartiality. Nor does the service obligation require you, as an authority employee, to ensure that the private person affected is able to avoid time-consuming work to, for example, put together and submit the information needed to enable your authority to decide their matter.
The availability of authorities is closely linked to their obligation to provide service. An authority must state clearly how the public can reach it, in what way and at what times. It is particularly important that the authority is available so that anyone who wants to do so can have access to public documents.
Authorities also have an obligation to collaborate. This collaboration is aimed at making the administration as uniform and efficient as possible and also at facilitating private persons’ contacts with the authorities.
Collaboration has two purposes
First, the general cooperation between authorities is intended to lead to private persons’ matters running as smoothly as possible. As an authority employee, you also have to help other authorities in your area of activities. The limit to how far you have to go in doing so is governed by what mandate your authority has and what areas of contact it has with other authorities. It is also linked to the requirement of the rule of law that all authorities must have regulative support for all their measures. Some authorities have activities in roughly the same areas and therefore have to collaborate to a greater extent.
Second, collaboration is intended to make contacts with authorities easier for private persons. You have to help private persons to a reasonable extent. You may, for example, need to call another authority to get information so that you can answer a question. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that certain sensitive personal data or information covered by secrecy and cannot be transferred freely between authorities
Government authorities mainly work in Swedish
The Language Act requires authorities to use the Swedish language, and expressing yourself comprehensibly is an obvious part of your service obligation. Moreover, your language has to be cultivated and simple, i.e. you have to endeavour to use plain language. This is particularly important in judgments and decisions concerning private persons.
The requirement for plain language covers not only text but also spoken language. The language at hearings and other oral processing in courts and at administrative authorities therefore also has to be cultivated, simple and comprehensible.
The public institutions also have a particular responsibility for protecting and promoting the minority languages in Sweden. They are Finnish, Yiddish, Meänkieli, Romani Chib and Sami.