Public Affairs: new education minister will need manoeuvring room in face of difficult tasks

Josef Dobeš, photo: CTK

Finding a successor to outgoing Education Minister Josef Dobeš, who resigned over planned budget cuts at the ministry, is seeing delays and most definitely will not be sorted by the end of the month. The Public Affairs party, headed by Radek John, wants assurances that Dobeš’ successor won’t be without options – arguing that extra funds should be found so that teacher salaries are untouched. By contrast, others within the centre-right coalition charge there is plenty of room within the Education Ministry to save; in their view, slashing teachers’ salaries should be far from necessary.

Josef Dobeš,  photo: CTK
Whoever replaces Education Minister Josef Dobeš can expect plenty of headaches from day one. On the table are numerous problems that needed addressing “yesterday”: the mismanagement of EU funds, highly-criticised university reforms, and a controversial decision to extend accreditation at the troubled law school in Plzeň. Most of all, Dobeš’ successor will have to deal with 2.5 billion crowns in planned budget cuts that the previous minister rejected for fear he’d have to cut teacher salaries. For this reason, ahead of negotiations with the other parties in government, Public Affairs wants assurances that the next minister will be allowed to “breathe”. Party chairman Radek John said this:

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
“For teachers not to be affected, it will be necessary to introduce registration fees at university. We need to give the minister – who will face calls within the coalition to ‘do something’ while suffering cuts – room to manoeuvre. A solution that is economically viable needs be found and agreed. It would be suicidal to take up the post without knowing the answer to this.”

But some members within TOP 09, one of the parties in government, see the situation differently. Anna Putnová, a TOP 09 MP, told Czech’s Radio’s Rádio Česko, for example, that in her view there were plenty of areas to save money at the Education Ministry:

“I don’t think that Minister Dobeš left because of the cuts but because he was up to his neck in problems. Regarding cuts, there are a number of ill-conceived projects at the ministry as well as a slew of unanswered questions; with a little good will, these could be sorted out and neither the Education sector, nor teachers, would suffer.”

Kateřina Klasnová
None more than Public Affairs, however, are aware that the clock is ticking for a replacement and that all involved will have to get down to business. Although its leadership agreed on Wednesday that teachers’ salaries would not be touched, in the end, the concessions made may have to be their own: it was reported on Thursday that along with college registration, Public Affairs may opt for financing the Education Ministry partially with funds from other ministries, namely the ministries of regional development and transportation which its own ministers run. Outgoing Minister Josef Dobeš was indignant over the idea, slamming his party for not sticking to its guns; he also warned he might resign his seat in the Chamber of Deputies in protest.

As for a successor to Mr Dobeš? So far unknown. One person being mentioned as a possible candidate is Kateřina Klasnová – the deputy chairwoman of the lower house and wife of Vít Bárta, the embattled politician most often described as the de facto head of Public Affairs.