MPs returned to their seats on Tuesday to debate, above all, a much-needed civil service bill, designed to reform the civil service along apolitical lines, cutting out cronyism and corruption to which it was susceptible in the past. The Czech Republic, to its embarrassment, is the only remaining EU member without such legislation already in place.
That legislation outlining how an independent civil service should be run is needed is lost on no one and politicians even in the opposition agree that steps need to be taken and taken fast for the bill to come into effect on January 1, 2015. The problem is that the centre-right opposition parties, TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats (members of the last government) disagree with key proposals in the legislation put forward by the government of Bohuslav Sobotka, including the introduction of a so-called super civil servant and bureau which would oversee rules for the recruitment and recalling of civil servants, new wage scales, exams, and other measures.
The head of the Civic Democrats, Petr Fiala, has called the creation of a post for a super civil servant “a mistake” and warned that the two dominant parties in government now – the Social Democrats and ANO – could pull the strings in the background, setting conditions favourable for them. Former finance minister Miroslav Kalousek, deputy leader of TOP 09 had this to say:
“Maybe we should remind people that the opposition pushed for an early discussion of the bill but then there was a delay of four months and it was on the backburner. We want a bill on the civil service which will be beneficial for the Czech Republic. We will therefore present five or six proposed changes and firmly believe we will reach a consensus on the bill.”
Consensus, however, may be slow in coming. TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats have warned of a filibuster if proposed changes are ignored. For his part, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has warned the opposition not to throw a wrench in the works though delay tactics now.
“We called today’s extraordinary session to correct some mistakes by two former centre-right governments and to prepare our country, among other things, for the drawing of 500 million crowns in EU funds, which we are currently unable to access.”
The coalition, which enjoys a comfortable majority in the lower house, must also find agreement within, according to Czech TV – with one of the parties, the Christian Democrats, criticizing a lack of clarity in the costs of pushing through the changes. The junior party is worried that operation of the new civil service could rise in the billions, a suggestion rejected by ANO. But they too will have to reach agreement. Now not much time remains to hammer out the final bill, a somewhat unfortunate state of affairs, given the country has promised to pass the legislation since 2002.