Czech ombud: Most problems concern social security
Czech ombud Anna Šabatová has answered several quick questions for the magazine Romano vod'i:
Q: How has your start as the Public Defender of Rights been going?
A: Smoothly. I have returned to an institution that I already know from the six years I spent as deputy ombud. That greatly eased my start. However, in recent years the activity of the Public Defender of Rights has significantly expanded, so I am gradually familiarizing myself with the agenda of detention facility oversight, discrimination, and the deportation of foreigners. The advantage is that these are topics with which I am very familiar and which I have long focused on, for the most part.
Q: How many requests for help have been sent to you during your short time in office? What do people contact you about most often?
A: It's almost unbelievable, but between about mid-February and throughout the whole of March we received almost 1 200 complaints. Most problems concern social security, in particular, pensions and aid to those in material distress. The ombud always receives many such complaints, but I see this as the result of the recent social reform, the stricter conditions for disbursal of welfare, and the overall deterioration in the situation of vulnerable groups - people living with disabilities, senior citizens, single parents and others.
Q: How is your communication with politicians going?
A: At the start of my term I met with various ministers to review various topics with them and the recommendations submitted by my predecessor. The government has changed and I would like the new ministers to involve themselves in these topics.
Q: In what area would you most like to focus?
A: I believe that in the Czech Republic the question of the discrimination of the Romani minority has been neglected. I definitely want to be involved in that topic. Another big problem is the non-existence of social housing, the result of which is the overpriced residential hotels whose owners make money on the welfare disbursed to the people in need who live in them. I also want to focus on the care provided to senior citizens in facilities and on the problems of people living with disabilities.
Q: What steps must be taken for the position of the ombud to become anchored in the Constitution - is it realistic to expect that this will happen? Would your office be taken more seriously by politicians if it did?
A: Primarily there must be political will among the politicians. To be part of the Constitution is naturally a certain expression of the seriousness of the institution and its firm anchoring in democratic society. In most countries, at least, that's what it means. However, it understandably would have no influence on the activity or powers of the Public Defender of Rights.
Q: What is your view of the recent remarks about foreigners, the Romani minority, and welfare made by Tomio Okamura - and basically his entire impact here? Are you planning to communicate with Mr Okamura about those topics?
A: I will not comment on politicians' statements. I generally meet with them where the activity of the Public Defender of Rights is concerned - advocating recommendations, commenting on draft legislation, and informing them of our specific findings from our investigations.
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