Czechia

   

Executive Accountability

#15
Key Findings
With highly polarized media and political environments, Czechia falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has gained 0.4 points relative to its 2014 level.

The current government is led by a media owner that dominates the print media, but a surge in online and independent media skeptical of the government has created considerable high-quality content, and rejuvenated public support for media organizations. However, this political polarization has deepened societal divisions.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and strong formal oversight powers. The independent audit office closely scrutinizes the use of EU and other funds, with one report leading to a ministerial resignation and even an arrest in 2017. The ombuds office is a critical defender of civil rights, and the data-protection office has been in operation since 2000.

Decision-making in the prime minister’s party is highly centralized, but other parties consult members more routinely. Economic interest groups have considerable resources and policy expertise. The broader civil-society sector is vibrant, with groups showing varying degrees of sophistication.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#24

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
6
With the increasing accessibility of online information, information on government policies is increasingly available to all Czech citizens. Growing diversity of the media landscape and the Pirate party’s success in the 2017 elections increased pressure for transparency and enhanced citizens’ ability to come to informed decisions. However, media sources are themselves polarized between those presenting simplistic views and/or broad support for Prime Minister Babiš and those providing a more balanced approach or even an apparent anti-Babiš resistance. The political polarization reflected in the media landscape deepens societal divisions. Furthermore, Babiš’s populist rhetoric tends to obfuscate the motives, effects and implications of policies. According to surveys, about 50% of the Czech population has a general interest in politics – a figure that has been more or less stable level over the last ten years.

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
7
The 2016 amendment to the Access to Information Act defined the term “open data” and led to the creation of a National Open Data Catalog (Národní katalog otevřených dat, NKOD) and a central open data portal (https://opendata.gov.cz). The access to government information became a major issue in the parliamentary elections in 2017 and the municipal elections in 2018, largely because of the Pirate party’s campaign. While more information is made available to citizens than has been in the past, it is not always provided in a user-friendly fashion, and citizens seeking information are often forced to jump through numerous administrative loops.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#2

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
9
In Czechia, members of parliament can draw on a set of resources for monitoring government activity. In addition to their basic salary, members of parliament receive additional pay for their membership in parliamentary committees, commissions and other duties. They also have a budget for assistance and expertise; parliamentary committees have an office staff of two to three persons and a secretary, and there is a parliamentary library and a parliamentary institute. The latter serves as a scientific center providing information and training for members of both chambers of parliament.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
10
As specified in the rules of procedure of the Chamber of Deputies, Czech parliamentary committees may ask for almost all government documents. Governments usually respect committee requests and tend to deliver the documents on time.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
10
Ministers and the top personnel of major state institutions are obliged to attend committee meetings and answer questions when asked. According to the rules, ministers are also required to present draft bills to appropriate committees. If the ministers send officials below the rank of deputy minister, committees may, and often do, refuse to discuss a legislative proposal. If the Chamber of Deputies believes that there has been serious misconduct and a minister’s explanation is regarded as insufficient, it may establish a parliamentary inquiry committee. During the period under review, one such committee was set up.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
In Czechia, parliamentary committees may and often do summon experts.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The parliamentary rules of procedure do not prescribe a particular distribution of subject areas among committees. Instead, distribution is based on custom, tradition and ad hoc decisions by the Chamber of Deputies and its organizing committee. In the current term, there are 14 ministries and 18 parliamentary committees. Fourteen of the 18 parliamentary committees “shadow” governmental ministries. Four additional committees fulfill specific parliamentary roles (organization, mandate and immunity, petitions, control and European affairs). However, there is not an exact match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries. The Economic Committee covers the agendas of two ministries, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Transportation. The Committee for European Affairs is dedicated to EU affairs and to the oversight of EU legislation, part of the agenda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of the Legislative Council, and cooperates with the European Parliament and the parliaments of other EU member states. The fact that there is not an exact match between the portfolio of ministries and parliamentary committees has not infringed on parliamentary oversight. If necessary, parliamentary committees may establish subcommittees and their number is not limited. In the period under review, there were 60 subcommittees in the Chamber of Deputies. The number of subcommittees per committee varied from zero to seven; the average number was 3.33.

Media

#14

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
The main TV and radio stations provide daily news programs and some deeper discussion and analysis programs on a weekly basis. However, much of the commentary is superficial, and debates are usually structured to represent the views of the main political parties. The quality of information on government decisions has improved with the digitalization process. Czech TV established CT24, a channel dedicated to news, which also broadcasts online and offers continual analysis of domestic and international events. The 2018 presidential campaign showed more balanced reporting from state tv channels, while most private outlets were deemed to be imbalanced in their reporting by the Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting. The Council also noted that in some cases, these private outlets used populist rhetoric and demonstrated a clear bias in favor of the president. The print media is dominated by Prime Minister Babiš’s MAFRA group which typically praises ANO ministers and criticizes Social Democrat ministers and the opposition. However, the growing diversity of the online and blended media sphere (i.e., combined online and print media) has increased the availability of investigative journalism and in-depth analysis. The ownership structure of the new media includes non-profit, crowdsourcing and paid content. Citizens are increasingly concerned and willing to support independent journalism. The circulation of quality weeklies, which provide in-depth analysis, increased between 2017 and 2018 by an average of 10%. Online media often engage experts, members of parliament and stakeholders in in-depth debates. Social media play an important role in increasing the visibility of policy issues.

Parties and Interest Associations

#21

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
4
The 2017 parliamentary elections transformed the Czech political landscape. On both what could broadly be understood as the left and the right, established political parties were challenged by populists and anti-establishment forces. Babiš’s anti-establishment and populist Movement of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO party), emerged as the strongest party (29.6% of the votes), attracting many voters of the Social Democrats (7.3%) and Communists (7.8%). The Pirate party (10.8%) drew young, educated left-leaning anti-establishment voters. On the right, the field is also fragmented, with the established Civic Democrats (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS, back up to 11.3%) alongside the conservative Christian Democrats (5.8%) and TOP09 (Tradice Odpovědnost Prosperita 09, TOP09, 5.3%) all having suffered losses, while the radical right Freedom and Direct Democracy (Svoboda a prima demokracie, SPD; new subject formed by Tomio Okamura, after disbanding his scandal-ridden Dawn of Direct Democracy, 10.6%) entered parliament.

The traditional parties had developed formal structures and means of participation in electing their leaders and voting at congresses on policies. In practice, active involvement by members was limited. This internal democracy was extended by the Social Democrats with their first-ever internal ballot of members over whether or not to join a coalition with ANO. The internal organization of the Pirate party is the most systematically inclusive as it enables both members and sympathizers to engage in agenda-setting and other activities, the majority of which take place online. The internal decision-making of the ANO party is the polar-opposite. The party is hierarchically organized, and its founder and leader, Andrej Babiš and a small group of his allies, dominate the decision-making process. The internal organization of SPD is even more restrictive, as the party leader Tomio Okamura controls both the decision-making and party finance in ways that involve intimidation and – according to investigative journalists – even extortion.

Citations:
Kmenta, J. (2017): Boss Babiš. Nymburk: JKM – Jaroslav Kmenta.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
7
The main employers’ unions and trade unions both have considerable resources and expertise with which to develop coherent policies. Trade unions have a significant competence with regard to labor relations and economic policy more generally; they can lobby ministries and parliament and influence government directly through tripartite consultation structures. In the aftermath of the economic crisis, the generational change and new European patterns of conduct by trade unions contributed to their growing public support. Employers also have access to considerable resources, but have a different agenda, favoring a less regulated labor market and lower business taxes. To strengthen their position, the trade unions align their position with European legislation.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
7
Interest associations have grown considerably in Czechia since 1990. As of April 2017, there are over 129,947 autonomous, self-organized groups, associations, foundations and organizations registered in the country, although not all of them are active. In the last decade, new NGOs emerged focusing on areas such as corruption, city planning, LGBT rights, food safety and participatory budgeting on the local level. Many of them have the resources and expertise to formulate relevant policy proposals.

The Prague 2018 municipal elections saw a host of new political issues emerging from NGOs successfully enter the municipal government: radical improvements in transport infrastructure, spending on education, safety, dignity and inclusiveness, effective and transparent governance. The group “Prague for itself” (Praha sobe) was able to draw the support of voters (16.54%) by clearly identifying these problems, proposing concrete policy solutions, and making clear that implementation will consider the benefits and costs of these policies for everyone. They emphasized the need to carry these policies out by experts while including citizens.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#15

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
8
The Supreme Audit Office (Česká republika Nejvyšší kontrolní úřad, NKÙ) is an independent agency which audits the management and performance of state property, institutions and the national budget. In doing so, it has also paid special attention to examining the financial resources provided to Czechia from the EU budget. The functioning of the NKÙ is regulated by the constitution, whereby the president and vice-president of the NKÙ are appointed for the period of nine years by the president of Czechia, based on proposals from the lower house of parliament. In addition, the NKÙ prepares at the request of the Chamber of Deputies, the government and individual ministries, comments and opinions on proposed legal regulations, especially those concerning the budget, accounting, statistics, auditing, tax and inspection activities. On the basis of the identified shortcomings, the NKÙ regularly analyzes the weaknesses of the budgetary process and formulates recommendations. In 2017, the Audit Committee of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of Czechia discussed 12 audit conclusions. The government considered 28 audits and implemented 220 NKÙ recommendations.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
9
The Office of the Public Defender of Rights serves as a vital protector of civil rights. It delivers quarterly reports and annual reports on its activities to the Chamber of Deputies, including recommendations on where laws could be changed and report on not fulfilled recommendations. The office also annually evaluates the extent to which these recommendations were followed. It produces detailed reports on cases it investigates, indicating when laws have been transgressed to the extent that the damaged parties have a solid basis for seeking redress. In the last quarter of 2017 and the first three quarters of 2018, the office received about 8,254 complaints, of which 68.6% were within the defender´s mandate. Most complaints were related to social security, followed by construction permits and spatial planning, the prison system, the police and the army, the rights of children, youths and families. A new issue has been the application of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
8
Data protection rests with the Office for Personal Data Protection (Úřad pro ochranu osobních údajů, ÚOOÚ), an independent body set up under a law passed in 2000 to supervise the observance of the legal obligations laid down for processing personal data; to maintain the register of notified data processing operations; to deal with initiatives and complaints from citizens concerning any breach of the law; and to provide consultancy in personal data protection. The president of the republic appoints the president of the office at the proposal of the president of the upper house of parliament (Senate). The scope of the ÚOOÚ’s activities has widened in the context of the adopted European legislation on the protection of personal data. In the period under review, the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation featured prominently on the agenda of the ÚOOÚ. In 2017, the ÚOOÚ received 1,684 infringement complaints.
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