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Town rejects strategy developed by Czech Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities

Chomutov, 10.12.2011 14:57, (ROMEA)

Town councilors in Chomutov have rejected the "Strategic Plan for Social Inclusion" developed for the town by the Czech Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities. Of the 10 towns where the Agency works, Chomutov is the only one where such a plan has not been adopted. The town councilors have said that some of the information presented in the strategy is untrue and based on insufficient knowledge of the town's situation.

Martin Šimáček, the Agency director, does not understand the town councilors' response to the strategy. "When we presented the plan to council members a month ago, they embraced it, including the people who are now opposed to it," he told news server Romea.cz. Šimáček considers the strategy to be a detailed, high-quality document that coordinates, connects and unifies various activities. He believes the criticism now leveled by the town councilors is an unfair, unnecessary confrontation focused more on procedural issues than on content.

The town councilors say the authors of the strategy ignored the comments of experienced people who have dedicated themselves to the issue in the town for years and says the authors were not interested in collaborating with local experts. In a press release, Mayor Jan Mareš says that only the first section of the strategy was actually written by the Agency, while the second part was developed by local nonprofit and social work organizations, including experts from the Czech Police, the labor office, the municipal police, the Municipal Social Services Institute, the schools, and the social services department. The mayor says the Agency has thus wrongfully reserved authorship rights to that section of the strategy.

Šimáček rejects the view that the Agency is claiming authorship of the various activities in the strategy. He says the document is the result of the joint work of all of the members of the local partnership, that it was drafted collectively, and that it corresponds to the principles on which the local partnership was based. The local partnership platform is a network that functions effectively thanks to connections between participants who coordinate their work.

Šimáček gave the following comment to news server Romea.cz: "The local partnership in Chomutov functions under the coordination of the Agency, it can't be separated from it. The members brought their proposals for activities and various measures to the joint meetings where everyone commented on them and we all did our best to find the most appropriate way forward together. The Agency also made some proposals of its own, but our contribution to the local partnership is mainly in bringing everyone together and moderating the communication."

In his press release, Mayor Mareš expresses the opinion that the Agency is pressuring the town through the media to approve the strategy: "[T]he Agency's statements through the media are creating the impression that if we do not adopt this material, which we believe is flawed and does not reflect our comments, then we won't be granted funding - that the Agency's position, and that of the central government bodies, would be a factor in restricting the activities our town might undertake on the issue of social inclusion."

Šimáček says that whether the strategy is adopted or not will not influence the town's chances of accessing financing for social inclusion activities: "Whether the strategy is approved or not will not affect the town's eligibility or opportunity to apply for funding, the town itself may request that funding, but it doesn't have to. However, if the town does request funding for activities that are included in a strategy that has been developed on the basis of a local partnership, it will give the town a certain advantage - it's a bonus."

In response to the charges that the strategy includes errors and untrue information, Šimáček notes that the Agency spent half a year processing all of the comments and even accepted some after the deadline. He says the town is placing an unnecessary emphasis on procedural aspects without debating the actual content of the strategy and that the discussion is becoming "a kind of ex post facto tug-of-war over details."

The strategy includes a range of tools, some of which the locality now lacks. Speaking to the Czech daily Právo, Šimáček named the ones the strategy is counting on: "There are dozens of good ideas there, such as a homeless shelter, a shelter for families with children, which the locality lacks, a social enterprise to help people find work, a social services information center, transparent housing, and an educational center for the schools, which local school directors have been calling for."

Mayor Mareš stresses that not accepting the document does not mean that no social inclusion activities will be implemented in the town. "On the contrary. We have been organizing the activities listed in the strategy and we are continuing to organize them without adopting that document and they function well," he says in the press release.

Of the 10 towns where the Agency began working in 2010, Chomutov is the only one where town councilors have not yet approved such a plan. In the other towns, the first project funding requests have already been approved. Šimáček says this means Chomutov is now more than half a year behind other localities with respect to funding opportunities for effectively and thoroughly addressing the issue of social exclusion.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdena Kainarová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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