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Czech Gov't Agency for Social Inclusion staffers resign after meeting with PM

23.5.2015 6:37
Striking workers of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion held a press conference on 11 May 2015. (PHOTO:  Jan Čonka)
Striking workers of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion held a press conference on 11 May 2015. (PHOTO: Jan Čonka)

The crisis at the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, which began with the unexpected dismissal of its director, entered a new phase on 21 May when 14 employees gave notice. News server publishes their joint statement in full translation below.

Statement on the departure of 14 staffers from the Agency for Social Inclusion

A total of 14 staffers at the Agency for Social Inclusion have given notice to the Office of the Government. They are all staffers from senior management - almost all of the Agency's methodological managers, local consultants with years of experience, experts in fields such as education and security, and also people in administrative positions.    

We were forced to take this extreme step because negotiations have made no progress even five weeks after the dismissal of director Martin Šimáček and the announcement of the plan to divide the Agency into two independent departments. Together with our colleagues, we have repeatedly met with Deputy Minister Martina Štěpánková and Minister Jiří Dienstbier, who have refused to take our demands into consideration, have belittled them, and have directly labeled them impossible.    

This has further intensified our concerns over the preservation of the continuity of the activity of the Agency and has not convinced us that conditions will be preserved in which we will be able to continue to fulfill our obligations to our partners, especially the cities and municipalities in which we work. Our basic demands included, in particular, that the Agency no longer fall under the ill-conceived, political leadership of the Human Rights Section.  

In the matter of preserving the integrity of the Agency as a department, Minister Dienstbier has just postponed taking a decision until the end of the year, which by no means guarantees the preservation of the Agency as a whole as of January 2016 (especially given the fact that in December the second phase of the systematization of the state administration according to the law on civil service will roll out). We are also of the opinion that the reasons given for director Šimáček's dismissal were absolute pretexts and that we still have not learned the actual reasons for his dismissal to this day.  

At the same time, we must warn that there is a lack of transparency around the new hiring procedure for the director of the Agency. From the beginning we have asked that the hiring procedure be made public and that a representative of the Independent Union of Employees of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic be present during the procedure, in accordance with the principles of collective bargaining and a transparent state administration, a request that Minister Dienstbier has rejected.

We consider it absurd that the names of the hiring committee members and the names of the candidates are being kept secret from the public. In addition, the circle of potential candidates has been unnecessarily restricted by criteria that are irrelevant to the direction of the Agency's complicated agenda.  

The candidates have not been asked to submit their own visions for the further development of the Agency, even though there is no doubt that this would significantly contribute to the transparent continuation of the Agency's work and the continuity and upholding of our obligations toward our partners. It is also alarming that Minister Dienstbier and Deputy Minister Štěpánková negotiated with certain candidates about applying for the post of director of the Agency before Martin Šimáček was ever dismissed.  

What is evidently happening is a departure from the vision of an independent Agency as a government instrument supporting social inclusion in these localities, and a move toward an ethno-emanicipatory institution over which members of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs will enjoy greater, even if absolutely unsystematic, influence. Our work in the localities has proven that, even though the Agency is supposed to unequivocally accent the problems of Romani social exclusion that are connected, to a significant degree, with antigypsyism and discrimination, it must also reflect the needs of the other impoverished inhabitants of these localities and their environs.  

During these past five weeks, the incompetence of Deputy Minister Štěpánková in leading important meetings at any level, whether with partners in the state administration or with local and regional partners, has been confirmed. Important processes are now being decelerated that were supposed to lead to ensuring all of the Agency's obligations in the localities, partner cities and municipalities.

The preparation of the projects to ensure the very operations of the Agency itself are at risk; the same applies to the projects that are supposed to be implemented as of 1 January 2016 and the current projects. We are concerned for the fate of the Agency, primarily about the politicization of its activity so that it will correspond to the political interests of the minister, which are not comprehensible to the public and do not sufficiently take into account the interests of impoverished, socially excluded inhabitants of the Czech Republic, including impoverished Roma.

This is a long-term agenda that is not at all popular, and it is not possible to alter the way it is handled according to changes in political preferences. The minister has made mention of an appeal that political interests be adhered to more than once - first when he publicized the reasons for his dismissal of Martin Šimáček (specifically in the case of the amendment to the Schools Act), next around the Social Housing Concept to 2020, and lastly around the participation of Martin Klika, the Ústí Regional Councilor, on the guidance committee of the anti-hate campaign because Mr Klika had publicly supported a candidate for the extremist DSSS party during the local elections.

On Tuesday, 19 May 2015, representatives of the Agency met with Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who, while he demonstrated the political will to support the inclusion of the Agency into the Office of the Human Rights Minister as its own separate section, did not support the inclusion of the Agency into his own agenda. He did also confirm that it is necessary to remove the Agency from the supervision of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Romani Community Affairs.  

The Prime Minister, however, did not agree to cancel the non-transparent hiring procedure for the Agency's director. Those outcomes of our negotiations, in combination with the preservation of the Agency under the direction of Minister Dienstbier, do not provide any guarantees that Dienstbier will not decide in the future to complete his changes to the focus of the Agency's activities or its reorganization.  

Even though the Prime Minister expressed his understanding of the causes of this crisis, during which he indicated that the creation of a separate section for the Agency might be possible, unfortunately, no concrete guarantees regarding the future of the Agency have resulted from these negotiations. For the above reasons, we cannot continue to responsibly fulfill our obligations at the Agency as we have done to date; we do assure our partners in the localities that we will complete the work underway before leaving our posts.  

Jakub Švec,  Head of the Department of Local Concepts

Vít Lesák, Methodologist, Department of Local Concepts

Alexandr Olah, Methodologist, Department of Local Concepts

Bronislav Podlaha, Methodologist, Department of Local Concepts

Jaroslav Valůch, Project Manager

Štěpán Bolf, Local Consultant for Frýdlantsko and Velké Hamry

Karel Straka, Local Consultant for Štětí and Good Practices Coordinator

Jana Němcová,  Local Consultant for Roudnici nad Labem

Martina Heryšerová, Local Consultant for Litvínov and Obrnice

Lucie Macků, Education Expert

Michal Krebs, Security Expert

and others

Employees of the Agency for Social Inclusion, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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