Long-awaited law aims to improve civil service

Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK

It has taken a whole decade and a lot of pressure from the European Union, but on Tuesday a new law on the Czech civil service aimed at improving services and reducing political influence was finally passed by the lower house of parliament. The Senate and President Vaclav Havel are also expected to sign the bill, which should then go into effect at the beginning of 2004. Ian Willoughby prepared this report.

Vladimir Spidla, photo: CTK
Anybody who has ever had any dealings with the Czech civil service will be be familiar with scenes that occasionally resemble something out of Kafka - baffling regulations, long queues, odd hours and service which can be far from friendly. But a wide-reaching new law passed by the lower house on Tuesday aims to improve that situation. The labour and social affairs minister, Vladimir Spidla, said the basic idea behind the bill was to make civil servants work harder - the carrot; higher wages.

The long-awaited and much-discussed bill was very controversial and scraped through by just one vote. The opposition Civic Democrats were against it, saying it would prove unnecessary and cost the state a lot of money. The Communists had a very different reason for opposing the bill - they disagreed with the fact that it retains the screening process, which is aimed at preventing former high-ranking Communists and StB secret police agents and collaborators from holding public office.

The governing Social Democrats had to do a little horse-trading with the right of centre Coalition of the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats - in exchange for their support the Social Democrats dropped the principle of a job for life. So no job for life, but the country's 80,000 civil servants will have certain advantages, such as six week's holiday - one more than the rest of us, but that advantage - and increased pay - is conditional on them passing exams.

And being tested is something they will have to get used to - their work will be assessed regularly. Civil servants will also have to improve their foreign language skills. Failure to shape up will not just result in docked pay - civil servants who do not make the grade will be shown the door.

And civil servants will have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Czech state.

For many one of the most welcome aspects of the law is how it intends to limit political influence. Ministers will no longer be able to give jobs to their cronies and will only have a say in appointing their own deputies and press spokespersons - nobody else.

All in all the new civil service law can be regarded as one more important step on the road to the European Union.