Right-of-centre parties promise to reduce bureaucracy

Czech taxpayers have to clothe and feed almost 17,000 civil servants. The number is growing steadily despite the promises of all governments to reduce it. With the general election looming the right-of-centre opposition parties have promised to lessen the burden on the taxpayer by cutting down the number of civil servants. But as Pavla Horakova reports now, observers doubt these latest promises will become reality after the elections.

Promises of cuts in the civil service are a popular pre-election ploy, especially among right-wing parties. Politicians like nothing better than to promise a streamlined, efficient state administration. And such calls are warmly received by the Czech people, who spent centuries ruled by Austrian bureaucrats. Vaclav Zak is the editor-in-chief of the political bi-monthly Listy.

"It's long historical experience of Czechs. They do not like the state because for many centuries they lived in a state run by Austrians and Germans and not by Czechs. So we don't like the state and we underestimate the importance of the civil service."

And that civil service - underestimated or not - is growing. In 1998 there were 13,000 civil servants in state administration. This year the number has almost reached 17,000. But if they get into power, the opposition Civic Democrats have promised to cut the number of ministries from 14 down to 10. They want to abolish the Ministry for Regional Development, a move the coalition of the opposition Christian Democrats and Freedom Union also supports. The Environment Ministry would merge with the Agriculture Ministry. The Education Ministry would also take care of issues currently attended to by the Culture Ministry and the Trade and Industry Ministry would unite with the Transport Ministry. But is there really any point in all this? Vaclav Zak says no.

"One of the reasons why we have problems with transformation is a very weak state and, moreover, the civil service is very inefficient. So what we need is not to change the number of ministries. But we need a very good law on civil service. The law that was passed is not very good. We need to have efficient civil service with educated people there. That's the problem of our state, not the number of ministries."

All these plans may seem like empty pre-election promises, taking into account that the Civic Democrats themselves once had more ministries in their government than the Social Democrats do now. So it seems unlikely that anything will change, no matter who wins this year's elections.