Czech Deputy Ombud advises new govt of problems
The current Czech Deputy Ombud has congratulated the ministers in the new cabinet on their appointments to office and has warned each of them about several problems which he considers in need of urgent resolution. Most of his remarks were addressed to the Labor and Social Affairs Minister, as traditionally most of the people who contact the Ombud do so about labor and social problems and the office has conducted the most investigations in areas under that ministry's purview.
The Deputy Ombud believes that the situation at the Labor Office of the Czech Republic must be urgently addressed, as that body currently conducts almost no social work whatsoever. However, he believes that a change for the better probably cannot happen without beefing up staff there.
The Deputy Ombud has also recommended the new minister consider changing the ministry's internal regulations so the Labor Office can provide (at least in narrowly defined cases) exceptional, immediate aid to persons in material distress so they can purchase medicine. These would be extraordinary situations when, e.g., as a result of a medicine that was previously free of charge going off the market, people become unable afford to purchase a replacement medicine and need one-time financial assistance to do so.
The Deputy Ombud is also warning that he has essential reservations regarding a proposed draft law on aid to those in material distress. He believes the proposed amendments will lead to a significant reduction to the housing subsidy, not only for people living in residential hotels, but also for those living in social services facilities.
In that context, the Deputy Ombud is asking the minister to thoroughly consider all possible impacts of the law should it be amended. Another systemic problem the ministry has yet to resolve to date is the halting of welfare disbursal to foster parents caring for children who are dependent on professional care.
When a foster parent is caring for a disabled child, the Labor Office compensates the parent and also provides an increased welfare contribution to cover the child's needs. Every expert appraisal of a child's dependency on care has an expiration date, and whenever that appraisal expires, the Labor Office stops disbursing those increased welfare contributions until a new appraisal is completed.
The Deputy Ombud believes there is no legal basis for this procedure and that the Labor Office is arbitrarily causing foster parents existential problems. Moreover, this is happening simultaneously to the ministry's efforts to expand the number of foster parents.
Last but not least, the Deputy Ombud would welcome the ministry providing methodological guidance to the Regional Authorities in relation to the thorough prosecution of entrepreneurs providing social services without authorization. This kind of activity is usually presented to the public as the provision of mere residential services and mostly targets senior citizens who are infirm, but the Deputy Ombud believes there is a great risk that persons reliant on others for care will be ill-treated as a result.
The Deputy Ombud also addressed his remarks on many of the topics that need to be resolved toward the new Justice Minister. He warned, for example, of the absence of a special law on (public) trusteeship, which is causing significant difficulties in practice.
There is no methodological guidance or monitoring of such arrangements, even though they concern the fundamental rights of tens of thousands of people. The Deputy Ombud also reminded the minister that, for many sectoral laws, there is no establishment of the conditions under and methods through which the state attorney can perform supervision over whether legal regulations are being upheld in places where people are deprived of their personal liberty.
In that context, the Deputy Ombud mentioned cases of so-called involuntary hospitalization and preventive treatment in particular. Both procedures are performed in psychiatric facilities, which are not currently supervised by the state attorney; cases involving police station cells or facilities for the detention of foreigners are in a similar situation.
The Deputy Ombud has welcomed the plan to renew tax relief for working pensioners that is now anchored in the coalition government's agreement. In that context, he has asked the Finance Minister to intervene as soon as possible with respect to the problematic impact of the existing arrangements on pensioners whose retirement pensions are low.
Under the current state of affairs, pensioners who would have to rely on welfare should they have no other income have no right to tax relief, even though previous legal arrangements took the amount of their pensions into account (tax relief was awarded up to a certain amount of pension income or was awarded proportionally). The Deputy Ombud has asked the minister to ensure the legal arrangements are changed so as to impact the 2014 tax year and to make use of his powers to waive the income tax for the 2013 tax period at least for persons drawing retirement pensions that do not exceed CZK 53 196 annually (i.e., CZK 4 433 monthly).
The Deputy Ombud has warned the Transportation Minister of the longstanding difficulties suffered by small municipalities with the road administration agenda, which is legally extremely complex. In some cases mayors are legally responsible for this agenda even though they do not have the resources to manage it.
Administrative proceedings in matters of local and purpose-built roads can drag on for years, and the participants in them are entitled to seek compensation for the systemic failure of the state in this area. The Public Defender of Rights (the Ombud) has been warning of this problem for many years.
Last year the necessary amendments (transferring such competencies only to municipalities with expanded capacity for them) was submitted to the Parliament of the Czech Republic, but they have not yet been discussed there. The Deputy Ombud is therefore drawing the attention of the new minister to the need to put that material through the legislative process as quickly as possible.
The "toleration of hidden tolls" by most road administration authorities also remains unresolved. These are cases in which the owners of purpose-built roads choose to charge a wide variety of administrative fees even though use of such roads is supposed to be free of charge by law.
This most often concerns so-called forest roads. The Transportation Ministry should methodologically instruct the Regional Authorities as soon as possible to make sure this phenomenon does not occur.
The Deputy Ombud reminds the Defense Minister of his predecessor's promise to implement measures to correct the fact that professional soldiers have been instructed to maintain their "availability" even though the law only makes it possible for them to be ordered to be on service readiness, for which they must be paid. The Supreme Administrative Court arrived at the same conclusion as the ombud last September on this issue.
The Deputy Ombud has asked the new Defense Minister to inform him of the current state of affairs with respect to this issue. In particular, he would like to know whether several such decisions have been overturned or whether new decisions to pay soldiers for their performance of service readiness have been issued.
Regional Development Ministry
The Deputy Ombud warns the new Regional Development Minister of the longstanding problem of how to finance the enforcement of the execution of decisions made by Building Works Authorities. In the Czech Republic there is no financing allocated to cover the costs of forcing the execution of a decision that has been issued by the Building Works Authorities in the public interest.
Most often this concerns decisions to remove illegal constructions, instructions as to the obligation to arrange repairs as part of a monitoring visit to a construction site, instructions as to work safety, etc. Practice has shown that if the owners of a construction do not respect a decision by a Building Works Authority, the municipality will not step up to execute the decision because the costs pose too great of an encumbrance on its budget.
The legal obligations assessed by Building Works Authorities in the public interest are therefore enforced only in exceptional cases. The Deputy Ombud would like to conduct negotiations with the Finance Minister and the Regional Development Minister this year with the aim of establishing the rules for reimbursing the costs of executing decisions issued by the Building Works Authorities in the public interest.
The Deputy Ombud reminds the new Health Minister of the country's particularly disappointing and longstanding legal arrangements regarding protection from noise. Either the Law on the Protection of Public Health should be amended in this regard, or a new law on noise should be adopted which would, for example, make it possible for persons affected by noise to participate in the proceedings to issue permits for the operation of a noise source that exceeds public hygiene limits; such a law should also introduce and unequivocally define the concept of an "isolated, short-term exposure to noise" and therefore remove such random noise sources from the law's jurisdiction.
The Deputy Ombud is also informing the minister of his systematic visits last year to anti-alcohol arrest stations, during which the Office of the Ombud inspected places where persons deprived of their personal liberty are being or could be detained. After evaluating the results of those visits, the Office of Ombud will inform the minister of its findings; however, the Deputy Ombud can already state now that some legislative changes in this area will be needed.
The Office of the Ombud is also currently evaluating its systematic visits to social services facilities for seniors that were performed last year. The Office of the Ombud is convening an international conference on Protecting the Rights of Seniors in Institutions on 20 and 21 February, with an emphasis on persons with dementia, a topic that closely relates to the ministry's currently developed concept for long-term care.
Foreign Affairs Ministry
The operation of the VISAPOINT system is the most urgent matter to which the Deputy Ombudsman must draw the attention of the new Foreign Affairs Minister. The law prescribes the obligation to set a deadline for the filing of applications only in the case of long-term visas; in the case of long-term and permanent residence permits, such a requirement has no legal basis.
These (legally not required) deadlines are multiplying the number of registration deadlines. Foreigners' rights to apply for residency are therefore being violated.
Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport
In the field of education, the Deputy Ombud warns the minister that last year the ministry significantly delayed implementation of its "Plan of Measures to Execute the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Case of D.H. and Others vs. the Czech Republic." Delays and even deviations from the original version of this plan have prompted doubts as to whether the ministry (and, in the international context, the Government of the Czech Republic) is prepared and willing to undertake steps to improve the situation in the area of educating the Romani minority.
This is related to the more general topic of equal, fair access to education as guaranteed by the constitutional order and the School Act. In the case of persons living with disabilities, the Czech Republic is supposed to guarantee inclusive education.
The Office of the Ombud's investigations, however, indicate that we are instead approximating a concept of elite or exclusive education in the Czech Republic. The Deputy Ombud therefore asks the Education Minister to submit to the Government its already-drafted amendment to the School Act and also expresses the hope that the new minister will focus on reforms to the financing of schools established by Regional Authorities.
The Deputy Ombud has drawn the attention of the Environment Minister to negotiations conducted by the Office of the Ombud with the ministry in recent years about possible legislative changes in relation to boreholes and sink wells. We can see from complaints filed by water well owners that, as a result of exploratory hydro-geological boreholes or sink wells undertaken in the neighborhood of water wells, there have been changes to, declines in, or even the total loss of the water quality in the water wells.
No permit is required to create an exploratory borehole, and in several cases the boreholes were never subsequently filled in. This leads to disputes between neighboring property owners which in practice often cannot be resolved and which are generating very difficult proceedings for the administrative authorities.
Another topic is the decree on the protection of lumber and permits for its harvesting. The Deputy Public Defender of Rights believes the ministry will accede to the amendments proposed to that decree to eliminate deficiencies in the law concerning the felling of trees in gardens.
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