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Former director of Czech Gov't Agency for Social Inclusion says its future is uncertain

17.4.2015 18:13
Martin Šimáček, former director of the Agency for Social Inclusion at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic.
Martin Šimáček, former director of the Agency for Social Inclusion at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic.

The Czech Human Rights Minister has removed Martin Šimáček from his post as director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. News server Romea.cz interviewed him about the impact of his removal and the reasons for it.

Q:  Why have you been removed from this position?

A:  I'll start with what I believe the current situation is, because I consider that more important. I did not anticipate my removal because the Agency is currently in the most difficult, perhaps the most important phase of its work. We have recently launched many new things that are having a big impact in the field. Just a few weeks ago, for example, we began working with Brno and Litvínov, and its seems that these big cities trust us. It's just clumsy to destabilize the Agency right now.

Q:  As far as I am aware, what is currently at stake is the drawing of money from the Structural Funds.

A:  Yes, that is another important matter. We have worked for months on designing how the European Structural Funds will be used, the option to draw on them is coming up, and it is not clear what this volatility around the Agency will do. We cannot rule out the possiblity that projects will be threatened because of this. The Agency's responsibility is really enormous - we have hundreds of partners, our projects affect thousands of people, and there are billions of crowns from the European funds at stake.      

Q:  Can we return to the reasons you have been removed?

A:  The background to this change is the law on state service which is about to take effect. On the basis of that law, the ministry wants to divide the Agency into two separate departments within the Human Rights Section. I think that would be a very risky move and that it would harm the Agency's performance. In addition, Minister Jiří Dienstbier gave me five reasons for my removal which I don't want to go into publicly, because I disagree with them and I consider them to be pretexts. On the basis of what the minister said to me, I have the feeling that he does not really know enough about the Agency's work.  

Q:  Is it true that one of the reasons was a disagreement between you and the minister about the amendment to the Schools Act? That you backed taking a more consistent position about reforming the "practical schools"? 

A:  Yes, that's true. I was a member of a group of experts that explained to the lower house why it was important to delete a controversial paragraph from the amendment to the Schools Act, because it would have kept the "practical schools" in the game, essentially in unchanged form. Certainly it is not exactly customary for a bureaucrat to speak to legislators together with people from NGOs, but I believe the state administration is also here to provide feedback to politicians. We have a great deal of information from the field, from practice. I stand by my opinions and the steps I have taken.

Q:  Sometimes there is also speculation that there are two different positions here around "Romani topics", and that they clash:  The "ethnic" position and the "social" one. Is that kind of dispute also behind your removal?

A:  No, I don't believe so. The Agency itself is, in fact, an area of controversy and of differing views in this regard, we are constantly engaged in that discussion, but the Agency does not represent any kind of pronounced position. I don't think my removal is about such an ideological dispute.

Q:  You have said that destabilizing the Agency might be a big problem now. Will the Agency be able to deal with it?

A:  I don't know yet. My closest colleagues, with whom I have been leading the Agency, are no less surprised by this than I am, and for the time being they are not sure whether they will have enough capacity to continue. Moreover, it's unclear whether my removal is an expression of the minister's lack of faith in my person, or whether there are big changes ahead. Uncertainty is primarily what my colleagues are experiencing.  

Michal Komárek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, Jiří Dienstbier, Martin Šimáček, Strategie romské integrace do roku 2020



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