Change of government triggers shake-up in civil service

Jiří Rusnok, photo: CTK

Changes of government in the Czech Republic are generally accompanied by a shake-up in the country’s civil service. Although the Rusnok caretaker government has not yet won a vote of confidence in the lower house, a change-of-guard in the top and middle ranks of civil service administration has already been launched. So how politicized is the country’s civil service and how is that affecting the running of the state? A question I put to political analyst Jiří Pehe.

Jiří Rusnok,  photo: CTK
“The civil service in the Czech Republic is highly politicized. We should note that in the last twenty years the Czech Republic has had one of the highest number of governments in Europe, so it is politically a very unstable country where governments come and go. And with every change-of-guard each new minister brings in his own team and this is not just a team of high-level advisers, deputies and so on, but very often heads of departments are replaced and it goes all the way down (the hierarchy) and very often these positions are given to friends or people who were loyal to a particular politician during the electoral campaign or who belong to his team. This creates a very unstable environment in the Czech civil service and at this point there is really little hope that it will change quickly.”

How does this affect the level of professionalism in the civil service, this lack of continuity?

Jiří Pehe,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“Well, the level of professionalism is very low simply because people in high positions in civil service do not have enough time to become professionals, they do not have to meet high professional standards which are common in most European countries. Another problem is that such people are easily targeted as those who should do various things for politicians, things which civil servants should not be doing, such as manipulating public tenders and so on. These people are vulnerable simply because their positions are not stable and independent of politicians, they are easy to extort, so to speak.”

Is there any chance of correcting this in the near future, even if there were a law in place?

“Well, of course this is not only a legal process but also a cultural process, so one should not put all of one’s hopes in a good law. However it is clear that a good law would help and it is clear that with a good law in place we could avoid some of the problems we see today –for instance we have a government that has not passed a vote of confidence and probably will not pass a vote of confidence and its ministers have already started bringing their own teams in and replacing people in various positions. This would not be possible if we had a law protecting these people.

Illustrative photo: European Commission
So certainly a good law on civil service would work better in a country where they have a long tradition of an impartial and de-politicized civil service –for instance in the Scandinavian countries. And it will not work so well in countries which have a tradition of corruption and where democracy is still quite feeble. But on the other hand, we have to start somewhere and I think the best thing the Czech Republic could do at this point is simply to adopt the law that was passed and was then suspended several times. This law was really not so bad although politicians argue otherwise, and all it needs now after being suspended for more than ten years is a brush-up. It needs some revision, but otherwise it is eminently usable so I think that would be the first good step to take.”