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Law to take politics out of state hires

Changes emphasise experts over party loyalists in state administration jobs.

The cabinet ministers(Source: SITA)

Some have said that even cleaning ladies at state offices are replaced with each government, as ruling parties pick allies to fill in the state posts, even if they are not experts, observers note.

This should however change with the new law on state administration which should introduce new rules for selection procedures and limit the ways state officials can be dismissed. Even if the draft law authored by the previous Smer-dominated government is adopted, some posts will remain under political influence.

“If the law is adopted, the system of using political power in the state will be really changed for the first time in history,” public administration expert Ľubomír Plai, who co-authored the new law, told the Pravda daily.

The depoliticisation of state administration is also part of the programme manifesto of the new government, with Plai calling it “the most important provision” in the document.

The new law should replace the old one adopted in 2009 which has been amended for 21 times since then, Pravda wrote.

Government started replacements

The ruling coalition and political parties nominate officials in nearly 700 state bodies, including 13 ministries, three dozen state institutions and 145 budgetary organisations. Moreover, via the ministers the coalition can also appoint bodies and officials in 56 joint-stock companies where state is a majority owner and 21 state firms, the Sme daily wrote.

The replacements at state posts have already begun under the new government, with the most changes being carried out at posts controlled by the Transport Ministry.

Among the first to leave their posts was head of the National Highway Company (NDS) Milan Gajdoš, who was dismissed for signing an agreement to build the highway crossroad Blatné for €20 million only one day after Transport Minister Roman Brecely took the post. Gajdoš is temporary replaced by Robert Auxt of Sieť, Sme wrote.

The minister also recalled head of the Železnice Slovenskej Republiky (ŽSR) railway company Dušan Šefčík, explaining that the railway transport is the quickest, ecological and modern way of transport and that for its modernisation the new impulse in form of new general director is needed, as reported by the TASR newswire.

Tibor Šimoni is the new head of ŽSR, and has served as independent expert in effective crisis management, especially in transport and energy, TASR wrote.

Health Minister Tomáš Drucker has also replaced several state nominees who were somehow linked with the scandals in the sector revealed during the previous tenure. Among the first to leave was Health Care Surveillance Authority (ÚDZS) Director Monika Pažinková who stepped down on March 30.

She reportedly had close ties with Smer party. Moreover, her husband Peter received donations for his polyclinics in Prešov from Richard Raši who was health care minister during the first Robert Fico government (2006-2010). After donations were given, polyclinics on the verge of bankruptcy turned into successful business, according to Sme. She was followed by ÚDZS deputy head Martin Senčák who reportedly was involved in some scandals and was close to entrepreneurs in the health-care sector.

The government meanwhile appointed Tomáš Haško a new head of ÚDZS. Before he took the post, Haško served as deputy director of Bratislava University Hospital (Ružinov branch) and director of the National Institute of Oncology (NOÚ), TASR wrote. 

Meanwhile, Environment Minister László Solymos agreed with Ladislav Lazár on leaving his post of general director of Vodohospodárska Výstavba company. He was linked to a controversial contract for ferry transport between Danube River ports at Vojka nad Dunajom and Kyselica in Trnava Region, TASR wrote.

Depoliticising state administration

Rapid replacements like this, however, will be more difficult in the future. The new law should draw a clear line between political nominations and positions for other state administration employees.

“There are mechanisms enabling using the advantages of state service, but also sanctions for those who will act at odds with state service’s ethics or use some unauthorised personnel practices,” Plai told Sme.

The new law should, for example, introduce mass selection procedures supervised by the Government’s Office which may be attended by school graduates younger than 30 years of age. After they successfully pass the procedure, they will be registered with the list of successful graduates, from which the service offices will pick people within internal selection procedures. If any of the posts remains empty, applicants from outside the list will be offered a chance, Pravda wrote.

Moreover, the salaries will be divided in 10 tariff groups, starting at €419 a month and ending at €1,152 a month. State employees working under the Government’s Office will receive 20 percent more.

Additionally, employees will be dismissed only if they do not fulfil their tasks properly. The reasons for the notice will also be checked by a three-member committee. The state employees will also be entitled to higher severance pay than ordinary employees, Pravda reported.

The law also introduces new Council for State Service to supervise fulfilling the principles of the law. It should have five members nominated by the parliamentary committee for public administration, the public defender of rights, chair of the NKÚ, the government’s council for non-governmental organisations and trade unions. The members will have to be approved by the parliament, Sme wrote.

Lawyer František Michvocík however does not think that the council will be under political influence as the nominations will be impartial, he told Pravda.

Political influence remains

Even if the new law is adopted, there will remain certain political influence as ministers, state secretaries and their advisors will still be selected by politicians, Plai told the public-service broadcaster RTVS.

Michvocík considers the fact that also heads of service offices will remain political nominees to be the biggest weakness of the new law. He claims that if we want to have professionals in the offices, we should start with the officials with highest positions, meaning the head of the service office. They should decide on personnel questions, evaluate the work of their subordinates and propose their rewards, the lawyer told Pravda.

Also Plai admits this slightly degrades the law.

“There is however still time to create pressure to change it in the final version,” he told Pravda.

Other countries had to depoliticise their state administration in the past, Plai said. He mentioned as an example the UK which adopted such rules 162 years ago. There, only ministers’ advisors are political appointees. The heads of service offices or deputy ministers are often professionals who fall under the law on state service, he added.

The European Union also wants Slovakia to adopt new rules. The European Commission will check how the countries approach the state service by the end of the year. If any country fails the inspection, it may lose access to some EU funds.

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