Czech Human Rights Minister: Agency staff will either meet their obligations or leave
Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier convened an extraordinary press conference yesterday to respond to the "further escalation of the situation" around the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and the "media campaign by its employees". The staff of the Agency have announced they are considering going on strike.
The dispute has been prompted by the removal of the director of the Agency, Martin Šimáček. Dienstbier emphasized that employees of the office are not in fact able to choose who their boss will be, nor what the structure of their department will be, nor what obligations they are to fulfill.
"I will not be pushed into a corner," the minister said. "The best would be if they would decide immediately whether or not to start fulfilling their obligations. If they are not going to, they should leave."
The minister is offering the employees a helpful step toward resolution, however. He has asked Czeslaw Walek, who has worked with Šimáček and who helped establish the Agency, to moderate the ongoing negotiations.
Dispute over monitoring the effects of the Agency's work on Romani people
Dienstbier reminded the press that one of the basic reasons he has removed the director is a dispute over how to monitor the impacts of the Agency's work on the integration of the Romani minority. The Agency has succeeded in pre-negotiating the drawing of EU money into two Operational Programmes, but the European Commission has established an unambiguous requirement: The link between the investments that go through the Agency to the municipalities and the Romani Integration Strategy must become more clear, as must the effects that these investments have on the lives of Roma in excluded localities.
The instrument for ascertaining that actual effect is supposed to be a newly-introduced monitoring process. According to Dienstbier, Šimáček refused to even discuss the Agency performing such monitoring.
Dienstbier says the director claimed that to do such monitoring would mean combining the "ethno-emancipatory" and "social" approaches to combating social exclusion. The minister admits that the dispute over these two approaches is a longstanding one that has been part of the discussion about the future of the Agency and its work for years.
"In the past I have even defended Šimáček's 'social' approach," the minister said. "On the other hand, it is a fact that the excluded localities are 80 % - 90 % Romani, so to reject the factor of ethnicity in their social exclusion is absurd. Moreover, the European Commission is insisting on a connection with the Romani integration concept, with a focus on the Romani community. Without that, it will not be possible to draw any monies from the EU funds."
The minister is also claiming that he has no other instrument for performing this monitoring but the Agency. News server Romea.cz has not yet managed to reach Šimáček for comment, but we will report his response when one becomes available.
A Romani man at the head of the Agency?
Minister Dienstbier also responded to the part of the "media campaign" being waged by the Agency's employees that alleges that the selection procedure for the new director of the Agency has been tailor-made for a specific person who has long been counted on to assume the role of director. The person at issue is David Beňák, who is, among other things, a civil society member of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs.
Dienstbier ruled out the notion that Beňák's Romani ethnicity will play a role in the selection of a new Agency head. He did admit that Beňák is among the four or five people whom the office considers appropriate candidates, but said that he is considered so exclusively on the basis of his experience and expertise and that the criteria for the choice of a new director are based on the new law on civil service that is about to take effect.
Prime Minister supports Dienstbier
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka also expressed his view of the situation around the Agency yesterday, calling on its employees to enter into negotiations. The PM emphasized that personnel questions regarding who will head the Agency are fully in the hands of the Human Rights Minister and that it is up to him to ensure the selection procedure will be transparent.
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