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ANO FIGHTS COALITION PARTNERS OVER DECENTRALIZATION OF STATE ADMINISTRATION

County, district, region, zone?

THE REFORM of state administration presented to parliament by the government has become a further sticking point in the relations between the parties of the much troubled ruling coalition.
Representatives of the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) have recently declared that they are not ready to vote for the cabinet-tailored plan.
"It is nonsense that we cannot agree with," said ANO boss Pavol Rusko of the suggested changes in state administration, after the party's deliberations on the issue on September 29.

THE REFORM of state administration presented to parliament by the government has become a further sticking point in the relations between the parties of the much troubled ruling coalition.

Representatives of the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) have recently declared that they are not ready to vote for the cabinet-tailored plan.

"It is nonsense that we cannot agree with," said ANO boss Pavol Rusko of the suggested changes in state administration, after the party's deliberations on the issue on September 29.

"We have a fundamental problem with it," added Rusko, who now wants to call a special meeting of the ruling coalition to change the draft legislation.

The government's appointee for public administration reform, Viktor Nižňanský, has said that ANO's arguments are a result of "personal attitudes and a low degree of knowledge".

"This is a governmental draft that's in parliament today. The representatives of all ruling parties participated in the draft, which means that this is not something I would be ready to revise at this point," said Nižňanský for Slovak Radio on September 29.

Nižňanský also pointed out the fact that the draft state budget for next year already reflects the proposed changes, and opening the administration reform would inevitably lead to the budget's redrafting.

Slovakia is currently divided into eight regions, which are further split into districts. There are a total of 79 districts in Slovakia, each of which is named after the seat of the so-called district offices.

District offices currently deal with an immensely wide scope of activities, ranging from agendas in the field of environmental protection, through education and crisis management, to transportation.

Different sections set up at the district offices carry out these activities.

The eight regional offices mainly supervise and coordinate the work of the district offices and act on appeals against their decisions. Under the newly proposed legislation, the districts are to be abolished altogether and replaced by 46 zones.

According to the government's Proposal for the Optimization of the Organization of Local State Administration, a document approved by the government in July that sets the framework for the reconstruction of the state's bodies, the current suggestion draws from the experience of the years 1990 through 1996, when Slovakia had 38 districts.

The newly established zone offices would not only be responsible for different territories, but would also have different authorities. Many of the sections would now become independent institutions dealing with a particular area. However, the number and location of these new specialised institutions would not mirror the distribution of the zone offices.

The government argues this arrangement would enable the administration to address the problems more efficiently by being there, where people actually need it.

The regional offices and their subordinate zone offices would only retain competencies in the fields of general internal administration, civil protection, crisis management, and trades.

This is where ANO sees a part of the problem.

"Today, citizens know that they can find everything under one roof. Now there is a push to create a system of specialised state offices, which we fear will only bring more bureaucrats," said ANO MP Ľubomír Lintner for TV Joj.

Nižňanský has claimed that the number of people working in local state administration in 2004 will go down to 9,820 from the current 12,255, thus saving an estimated Sk750 million (€18.25 million).

This reform is part of an on-going and complex plan of distributing the powers over public affairs between government-controlled state authorities and municipal bodies, whose representatives are elected directly by the inhabitants living in their territories.

There are two levels of these local municipal bodies. One is the level of villages and towns, where people elect local council members and mayors. Self-governing regions, or higher territorial units as they are sometimes called, introduced only in 2001, represent the other level. There are eight such self-governing regions, and their territory matches that of the eight government-run regional offices.

The ANO party now says that it will not give up easily on its demands.

"We are ready to bear the political responsibility. We will not let ourselves be cornered," said Lintner.

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