Government representatives and opposition leaders on Monday failed to break the deadlock over the shape of a new civil service law which the country urgently needs. Although the two sides said they were ready to compromise on almost all counts, the creation of an all-powerful, top civil servant whose position would be proofed against political interference remains a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
The need to reach agreement on a new civil service law becomes more pressing with every passing week. After more than a decade of controversy on how to best de-politicize and professionalize the Czech civil service, Brussels has put its foot down and warned the Czech Republic that EU funds will be frozen unless the country implements a new civil service law as of next year.
Critics claim that Czech politicians have dallied with the law because it suits them to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. Abuse of funds, cronyism and poor administration have long dogged the civil service, with election winners effecting shake-ups at ministries to gain control. The proposal that the civil service should be administered by a “super bureaucrat” – a top civil servant, who would have a seven year term in office, be protected from political interference and who could not be dismissed without the president’s counter signature has created ripples of unease.
Right-wing opposition parties are accusing the centre-left coalition government of wanting to infiltrate the civil service and cement their power in public administration for seven years, long after their term in office expires. The coalition denies this and maintains that an independent top civil servant who would appoint a central administration of professionals is the only way of de-politicizing the ailing civil service. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said after Monday’s talks that while the coalition was ready to make concessions on all other counts the creation of a top civil servant was not negotiable.
“The government is ready and willing to make concessions and find a compromise on four out of five areas of friction, but not on this one count. If we are to make a headway, I would advise the opposition to search for ways to bring their stand closer to ours on this particular matter.”
The opposition, led by the strongest right-wing party TOP 09, claims that it wants guarantees that the bureaucrat-prone Czech public administration will not spiral totally out of control with the new independence it would gain as a result of this amendment. TOP 09 deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek:
“The central administration of public service –headed by a top administrator – would be the tip of the iceberg of a relatively very closed public administration system. We are not questioning the need for a central administration but the need for a top administrator who would appoint people to all important posts, who in turn would appoint others in a pyramid fashion. This would truly create a fortress for elite bureaucrats.”
TOP 09 says that instead of an independent top administrator the civil service should come under the management of the Ministry of the Interior, since it is only right that the winner of the parliamentary elections should bear ultimate responsibility for the functioning of the public sector.
The dispute over who should manage the country’s public administration will continue on Wednesday when the two sides are expected to meet for another round of talks to try and bring their stands closer.