Watchdog sounds alarm at ‘purges’ in Czech civil service and state administration

David Ondráčka, photo: Karolína Koubová

Good government watchdog Transparency International has warned that moves by the current Czech government to sack top level civil servants and members of the state administration have gone a lot further than originally declared. And it says that further encroachments on what should be a non-political administration are threatened.

David Ondráčka,  photo: Karolína Koubová
The Czech Republic was the last EU member state to push through new rules aimed at creating an independent civil service and state administration where what you know counted for more than who you know in top state jobs.

The new rules from January 2015 were cautiously welcomed as the possible start of a new era of apolitical administration where the politicians were kept at hands length and better policies and laws might result.

But according to the Czech branch of Transparency International, the civic service law is not working well and that has been highlighted by actions of the current government. In December last year it announced what were described as fairly minor changes organisation of central government with the disappearance of some departments and a maximum 20 top jobs. In fact, the shake-up has gone a lot further. Transparency International’s director David Ondráčka:

ʺTI looked at the numbers and found that there were at least twice as many more senior positions at the government and agencies and ministries that were replaced. Plus there are quite senior changes and shifts in the security forces and state owned enterprises. So if you take it altogether, we see clear purges at the senior level of public administration and government in the Czech Republic and it’s being done by a government that does not have a vote of confidence.ʺ

Ondráčka says more changes are promised by some ministers and are likely as new government ministers are installed in a possible new government. And he argues that the experience in recent months had added to the weight of evidence that the Czech Civil Service law is not really working in practice:

Prague City Hall | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
ʺThis law is not working well and there are already attempts to amend the law. I believe this should be done very carefully with quite a broad expert debate because you are actually changing the whole machinery of the public sector and some quick fixes do not usually do much good.ʺ

On a wider perspective, David Ondráčka says the Czech Republic now stands at a crossroads as regards how its state administration shapes up in the future:

ʺGenerally, I think if you look at it from the Big Brother context, we have to make a clear decision whether we come back to the era where each new government purged all the senior positions and brought in their own staff or administration, which in my view was very, very inefficient. Or we come back to more European standards where public administration is impartial, professional, and stable and the political governments are just making the priorities what to do and the administration delivers.ʺ