Czech Republic, August 15, 2004

FORMS OF PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN NGOS AND PUBLIC AUTHORITIES IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 

Petr Pajas

Despite the fact that since 1990 NGOs have actively sought to improve cooperation with the public administration, formal agreements on such cooperation still do not exist in the Czech Republic. During the election campaign in 2002, representatives of several political parties at a special meeting with NGOs issued a document, known as the Brandys Declaration, whereby the two sides indicated a willingness to negotiate a formal cooperation agreement if the parties concerned were to form the next government. Not much has happened since that time in this respect.

Government Councils

Nevertheless, due to specific historical circumstances related to the privatisation of industry and a decision to use a part of the government's income from privatisation to endow Czech foundations, there is a platform for close cooperation between the national government and NGOs, namely the Governmental Council for NGOs. It was established in 1995 to supersede the Council for Foundations set up in 1992 to oversee the endowment initiative. After completing this high priority task1 the Council assumed the role of negotiating with national ministries the general rules regulating distribution of state subsidies to NGOs. This also resulted in the creation of a Central Register of NGOs Receiving Subsidies from Public Sources (the so-called CEDR). Recently the Council decided to open a tender for an NGO which will be contracted as independent manager of the CEDR. The Council has also decided to prepare an overall report on the current state and needs of Czech civil society, in the drafting of which NGOs are expected to play an important role as subcontracting parties.

NGOs advocating for human rights and the legitimate expectations of ethnic communities, especially the Roma minority, have been instrumental in the creation of a Governmental Council for National Minorities. Its role is to coordinate efforts of the government, regional self-governments, municipalities and NGOs with regard to promotion of the rights of minorities and their integration into society, taking into consideration their specific cultural, educational and social needs.

Both these governmental councils are currently chaired by a Deputy Prime Minister and are composed of a mix of NGO experts and senior officials of line ministries of the national government.

Participation in Drafting Laws

During the period of transformation following the fall of the one-party Communist system in November 1989, specifically in the years 1990-1997, there was very active cooperation of special task forces consisting of NGO experts with the government and parliament in drafting the laws which regulate the civil sector in the Czech Republic. In the late 1990s, these efforts culminated in the adoption of the Act on Public Benefit Corporations2 and the Act on Foundations and Funds3, which were further amended in 20024. Currently, the Czech Donors Forum is working on a draft of the so-called "1% Law" - a regulation enabling taxpayers to assign 1% of their income tax to an NGO of their choosing. The ongoing process of drafting a new Civil Code for the Czech Republic is proceeding with the participation of NGOs. NGOs and universities are expected to play a crucial role in drafting a special law on public benefit which will link provision of recognised public welfare services to tax benefits and opportunities to bid on contracts.

Accession-related Cooperation

The Czech Republic's process of accession to the European Union (EU) has produced several new forms of cooperation between the national government and regions on the one hand and specialised NGOs on the other. NGOs have been invited to participate in the training of Czech public administration officials in EU affairs on a contractual basis. In particular, an association of NGO experts and university teachers, EUROPEUM, has organised discussions between policymakers and other experts on defining the position of the Czech Republic in the enlarged EU.

In 2000 a reform of public administration was completed and 14 regional self-governments were elected. They are gradually taking over a large share of the responsibilities for primary and secondary education, social welfare, and protection of the environment, cultural heritage and minorities. At the municipal and regional levels, NGOs are actively participating in Regional Development Planning within the framework of the Czech Republic's accession preparations.

NGOs often became partners or were contracted to provide services in the field of social welfare. They accumulated a lot of experience within this field and made a unique contribution by introducing new and much more individualised services to people in need. As a consequence, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs invited NGOs to actively participate in the so-called Community Planning Initiative. This initiative involves municipal and regional public administrators, local entrepreneurs and NGOs working together to create a comprehensive regional development plan based on mutual cooperation between all key players in the region.

Conclusion

Thus, the absence of formal agreements or so-called compacts within the Czech Republic's political and social environment is partly compensated for by the institutionalisation of cooperation and active participation of NGOs on many levels within several forms of partnership with public administration and self-governments at the national, regional and local levels5.

Petr Pajas is Vice-President for Administration at the New Anglo-American College in Prague.
E-mail: => petr.pajs@aac.edu
Web: => www.aac.edu

First published in SEAL (Social Economy and Law Journal), Winter 2003 - Spring 2004. See => http://www.efc.be/publications/sealabstract.html .
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