What is a Competent Authority?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 February 2020
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A competent authority is a person or entity with the legal capacity to perform a function such as authorizing an activity, making a decision, or offering a waiver under specific circumstances. Legal responsibility lies with the competent authority, and this person may be held accountable for bad decisions or ill-advised authorizations. Sometimes, the law specifically designates a person, agency, or organization, and in other cases, people assume this position by nature of their work.

One setting where this concept comes up is in the Basel Convention, an international agreement to control hazardous waste and limit dangerous handling of materials known to be toxic. Under the Basel Convention, nations designate competent authorities who make decisions about hazardous waste transfers, storage, and related matters. They rely on national, as well as international, law to perform this function, considering health and human safety, as well as environmental issues.

Another context can be in the form of appeals to a competent authority when people encounter an unfair tax situation. People paying taxes in multiple nations or handling international income may find themselves in a position where they receive unfair treatment under the law. They can apply for special treatment under a tax treaty with the goal of resolving the situation reasonably. If the government denies the application, they can appeal to a competent authority to request mediation and establish the rules for the situation.


Usually, a government agency or authorized representative acts as a competent authority. Authorities derive their power from the scope of duties laid out for their agencies under the law, and can take on additional authority in order to comply with legislation. If the government passes a law mandating agency oversight of a given activity, this gives the agency broad scope in terms of enforcing that mandate effectively and appropriately. In a situation where people want to dispute an agency's claim to authority, they need to provide compelling evidence to explain how the agency oversteps the boundaries laid out under the law.

When people approach a competent authority for assistance with something, they need to provide as much documentation as possible. This can include things like formal declarations using forms the government provides, along with information about who is acting as a point perform for communications. The competent authority will review the material and make a decision about how to proceed, informing the contact person. If there are questions or an application is incomplete, someone will need to be able to respond to requests for clarification and more details.


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