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GOVERNMENT SAYS CHAMBERS HINDER BUSINESS; PROFESSIONAL ORGANISATIONS DISAGREE

Chambers' powers to be slashed

THE GOVERNMENT has plans to dissolve a number of professional organisations, and the powers of those remaining will be considerably slashed.
The Justice Ministry has already proposed to thin out the professional chambers and the interest associations.
Health Minister Rudolf Zajac announced on August 28 that the number of professional chambers in the Slovak health care sector will shrink from the current eight to five. In mid July, Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics proposed the cancellation of obligatory membership in these organisations.

THE GOVERNMENT has plans to dissolve a number of professional organisations, and the powers of those remaining will be considerably slashed.

The Justice Ministry has already proposed to thin out the professional chambers and the interest associations.

Health Minister Rudolf Zajac announced on August 28 that the number of professional chambers in the Slovak health care sector will shrink from the current eight to five. In mid July, Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics proposed the cancellation of obligatory membership in these organisations.

"Chambers with obligatory memberships are, without a doubt, unjustified barriers to starting a business," Nemcsics told news wire SITA.

Chambers regulate entry into professions and oversee the performance of professionals, including their adherence to ethical standards. Currently, a pharmacist cannot open a pharmacy, and a lawyer cannot start a practice without permission from a chamber, which is established based on the country's laws.

The government's plans to weaken the status of professional chambers have outraged their leaders, who have compared the intention to restrictive socialist measures.

"This move unambiguously pursues the extermination of professional organisations," the president of the Slovak Chamber of Executors, Ján Jonata, told the daily SME.

The deputy chairwoman of the Slovak Bar Association, Darina Michalková, told The Slovak Spectator that the chamber is in no way an obstacle to the development of business activities in Slovakia, but rather is a guarantor of their growth.

The leaders of the chambers are also critical of Nemcsics' efforts to cancel compulsory membership. They say that without obliging the pharmacists, lawyers, and physicians to join professional organisations, the chambers would lose their ability to regulate the quality and ethics of performance within these professions.

According to the Economy Ministry, the chambers annually collect several millions of crowns from membership fees.

"Compulsory membership fees and the prospect of profiting from the redistribution of these funds are often the main motives for the chambers to push for the strengthening of their powers," Nemcsics told journalists.

However, according to Michalková, the bar association secures professional standards for the profession, while "for the complex and effective performance of this role, compulsory membership with a payment fee is unavoidable." She went on to explain that the compulsory membership does not have negative effects on the market, but rather benefits the professional growth of its members.

"A different institutional and legal arrangement - for example, one that provides legal services based on the tradesmen law - could undermine the legal profession, by weakening or even liquidating the demanding criteria that the chamber pursues," Michalková told The Slovak Spectator.

In mid July, the Economy Ministry claimed that there were 19 professional organisations in Slovakia, while the daily SME counted 22 chambers with obligatory membership fees.

Eight professional medical chambers have already protested against the Economy Ministry's plans to transfer the powers of supervising professional capability to the trade offices of local state administrative bodies.

The health care chambers insist that the trade offices could never sufficiently substitute them in protecting patients from unqualified health care providers. Leaders of the chambers have also expressed concerns that diminishing the influence of professional organisations might isolate them within the European Union and result in the organisations' exclusion from international structures.

However, Zajac assured those concerned that the ministry would keep compulsory membership in those chambers that grant operational licenses to health workers, since these chambers have taken over the powers of some state bodies.

Among those chambers with preserved authorities are the Slovak Chamber of Physicians (with over 14,000 members), the Slovak Chamber of Pharmacists (2700 members), the Slovak Chamber of Nurses and Midwives, and the Slovak Chamber of Dentists (3100). The fifth chamber will cluster together other health workers with university education - for example, speech therapists, physiotherapists, and clinical psychologists, Minister Zajac told news wire SITA.

In 2002, former Health Minister Roman Kováč blocked a bill pertaining to the operation of chambers simply because it did not include the requirement of compulsory membership in selected health care chambers.

Currently in Slovakia, there are two types of chambers: professional chambers, which have the authority to issue licenses and oversee the performance within the profession, and interest organisations. The Justice Ministry sees problems with both types of organisations being established by law.

"I see no reason why a chamber of chimney sweepers or driving instructors should be established by the law," Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic said.

Slovak lawyers do not want to see the powers of their bar associations mutilated either. Earlier this year, lawyers protested the state's plans to merge the Slovak Bar Association (2091 members) with the Chamber of Commercial Lawyers (1412 members). The commercial lawyers believe the move would actually rid the state of a well-functioning organisation that could, in fact, help attorneys eliminate commercial lawyers as their competitors. The bars collect more than Sk20 million (€476,300) annual membership rship fees.

The state further plans to preserve the Slovak Bar Association, the Chamber of Veterinarians, the Slovak Chamber of Tax Advisers, the Slovak Chamber of Auditors, and the Slovak Chamber of Architects. Professional organisations for civil engineers, executors, cartographers, and psychologists will also be preserved.

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