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Independent evaluation of Czech Govt Agency for Social Inclusion discussed

Prague, 6.10.2011 18:07, (ROMEA)

The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities commissioned an independent evaluation of its activities to date in 13 pilot localities from the SocioFaktor company. Its performance was ranked as average overall. Its worst performance was evaluated as having been during its start-up phase, immediately after being established by the then-Human Rights and Minorities Minister Džamila Stehlíková. The Agency's work more recently was evaluated as good after director Martin Šimáček took the helm.

A public presentation of the evaluation took place at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University in Prague and was organized by the Agency and the ROMEA association. Panelists included Karel Holomek of the Society of Roma in Moravia (Společenství Romů na Moravě), Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, Agency director Martin Šimáček, Daniel Topinka of SocioFactor (who presented the evaluation), Ivan Gabal of Gabal Analysis & Consulting, and Daniel Hůle, a social worked with the People in Need organization. Due to the great interest of the audience in discussing the evaluation, Mr Hůle did not ever manage to take the floor.

The presentation was moderated by Jarmila Balážová, chair of the ROMEA association. Audience members included former Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb, several municipal-level politicians from North Bohemia, Rudolf Vitkovič of the GYPSYOL association, people from nonprofit organizations, students and other Romani residents of North Bohemia: Milan Farkaš, Pavel Botoš, Čeněk Růžička, Miroslav Kováč and Štefan Tišer (from West Bohemia).

The evaluation ranked the Agency's best results as having been achieved in Cheb, Litvínov, and Most, while its worst results were in Holešov, Jeseník district, and Slezská Ostrava. The Šluknov district, where unrest is ongoing and a tense atmosphere predominates, was ranked as among the better half of the results in the evaluation.

SocioFaktor reported that the Agency's activity is correctly targeted and relatively effective. Under its new leadership, it has begun to work in a more coordinated, systematic way in the area of social inclusion in troubled localities.

The evaluation also revealed many general deficiencies, such as the fact that the Agency's launch in 2008 was not at all secure from a organizational point of view, or that it does not sufficiently respect the differences between various localities and the needs of their residents. "The Agency should do more to inform socially excluded residents and other stakeholders about its activities," Daniel Topinka of SocioFactor said.

An important point of the evaluation was the criticism that the Agency is involving very few Romani staff in its activities, especially not Romani people from the socially excluded localities. Karel Holomek and other Romani audience members raised this point during the discussion.

Agency director Martin Šimáček considers one of the most interesting results of the evaluation to be the finding that the Agency knows how to learn from its mistakes and is capable of developing. "That has been reflected in our cooperation with the municipalities that joined our program in 2010 and 2011. The work in those places is going much more efficiently and rapidly," Šimáček said.

The evaluation was based on both group and individual interviews and completion of a questionnaire in the localities concerned. Of the 13 places where the Agency launched its activity in 2008, it is currently continuing in six of them: Břeclav, Cheb, Most, Šluknov district, Ústí nad Labem, and Litvínov (where it started one year later).

In 2011 the Agency stopped working in Brno, Broumov, Holešov, Jeseník district, Přerov, Roudnice nad Labem, and Slezská Ostrava. It launched work in new localities both this year and last and is currently working in 26 places.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková said the Agency, which she is responsible for overseeing, has become a rather well-established tool for the Government to address the issue of social inclusion during the past three years. "We would like to disseminate examples of successful practices. It is important to do our best to achieve comprehensive, coordinated, responsible solutions. The situation in Šluknov district shows the existence of the Agency is a necessity," she said.

Holomek took exception to some of the Agency's arrangements. "Being established by the Government may increase its authority, but the Agency has no power. It is entirely dependent on the good will of the municipalities," Holomek said. He also sharply criticized Šimůnková for her bureaucratic approach to the matter.

Ivan Gabal said he is convinced that the bill about the Agency proposed by Michael Kocáb during his tenure as Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner should be adopted. The legislation would establish the Agency's activities beyond 2012 (which was originally to be the end term of its launch), increase its powers and firmly anchor it as an institution. Šimůnková responded to Gabal with the following claim: "The political decision is not to do anything with that bill for now."

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, iDNES.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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