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An interview with Karla Šlechtová, Minister of Regional Development

My Ambition is to Open the Competence Bill

As a graduate economist, the minister of regional development Karla Šlechtová started her professional career in the Czech Business Leaders Forum at the position of a project manager and mentor of seminars. For three years she also worked at CSR Europe as a coordinator of project portfolios, and atthe European Center for Public Administration as a project manager. Then she moved to Bulgaria for a few months, where she worked for Deloitte Bulgaria. She followed her position at Deloitte Advisory with a position consulting EU projects and grants. She also has experience at the Czech Social Security Administration in the position of project manager for smart administration projects. In 2011, she joined the Ministry of Regional Development first as a director of the department for the programming period 2014-2020, then as a director of the EU funds departments, section of European matters, and also at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic. 

Dear Mrs. Minister, how coherent do you think the agenda of the Ministry of Regional Development is?

“This question may be answered by my chart of the reconstruction of the Ministry of Regional Development, which I prepared in November. The agenda of the Ministry is completely incoherent. When I was talking to the lawyer who worked here in the past, he told me of how the agenda used to arrive here.  They arrived here when nobody wanted them. That´s how the Ministry of Regional Development was created. But I am sitting
here now, I am the minister, and the agreement with all my colleagues when I came here was that I am going to strengthen the Ministry.”

So, the Ministry is not “bound to quit”, as most traditional reproaches from various MPs insinuate

“It has been discussed for twelve years. The employees are nervous about what is going to happen. However, cohesion may be found here and I found it in The National Coordination Authority. That is a separate unit which coordinates all funds and is relevant above all. Then there is a section of European programs where I have all of the controlling units of the programs. I have the Integrated Operational Program, the Integrated Regional Operational Program, the Operational Program Technical Aids 1 and 2, and whole cross-border programs…”

That is quite a lot of bodies.

“I have twenty controlling bodies here. Four essential ones and seven under the European regional cooperation for future periods. My colleagues have to negotiate this.”

So, what is the key?

“Well, it is the Ministry of Regional Development, and of course regional policy. When I took up the position, as far as the regional policy is concerned, I did not even know what my colleagues were doing there. What was the point? There were few people…

To feel that our Ministry is strong, the support of management is necessary. It is necessary that the billions that I am sitting on are not a media bubble. I am responsible for a range of things.”

So, regional policy.

”Yes. The regional policy is made up of the agenda of the Ministry according to competence law. It consists of the regional policy, housing policy, and tourism. This is under our competence, although we can of course discuss if part of it belongs to the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Anyhow, it is at our Ministry and I will take care of tourism. We also have CzechTourism, which by the way will probably be audited for the whole year.  For this organization I will run quite big audits because some of their projects have to be evaluated.”

But that is not all of your agenda…

“Correct. Contracts, building law, auctions, real estate activities, regional administration… it is possible to find coherence in all of this. I found it in four key sections. Now, it is up to me and my deputies to push it through. I believe we will make it happen.”

You mentioned the employees. You had worked at the Ministry before. How much does the ministerial building reflect the constant changes of the Ministers, and the turns in political direction? You are mainly specialized in the European funds…

“I am quite amused by the texts in the media saying I am a fund expert. If you have a look at what I have been doing for the last three months, you will see that I passed the funds to my deputies and “only” supervise them. Now, I am solving issues that probably nobody has ever been solving here before. Public contracts, building law, housing policy. It must make sense; these are the tools of the regional policy.”

Ok, but what about the employees?

“If I refer back to my position as director, four Ministers changed while I was preparing the whole programming period for 2014-2020. This was just within three-and-a-half years. For each Minister we prepared passing protocols, and each Minister had different requests, different opinions, preferences, and priorities. The policy Statement of the Government is an illustration of the fact that each government wants to have their priorities somewhere else. I do not agree with that. I miss the strategy of governing the state here. I do not think that the Minister is here just to collect points during the whole four years of the term. I don´t need any points. I am not a deputy, I don´t belong to any party. I want to enforce a key, competent, and effective Ministry. I want to give security to the people who are here.”

Does it mean that the fact you are not connected to “high politics” makes you a stronger Minister?

“I don´t simply speak. I prefer working, deciding. Many managers of ministries do not decide, they are afraid to do so. I go for it, because someone must do it. To do so I have offered myself and my privacy, because of “my” people, of whom there are 650 here. It is these civil servants who make the Ministry, not me. Therefore I strive to give them security so that they can live on, so that I will leave something here and my successor will be able to continue our work, not change it. It is necessary that all political parties perceive that. They cannot take control, come to the Ministry and change priorities, change the agenda. By the way, my ambition is to open a competence bill. It doubles the work of ministries many times.  When I was preparing the partnership agreement I faced a great departmentalism. The term synergy is a bit forbidden here. But if the ministries do not cooperate, it is a mistake.”

Can you give an example?

“The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs must cooperate with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, no matter what party is currently in the lead. I thus belong to everybody, I must cooperate with everybody. Especially because of the funds.”

Speaking of the funds, your Ministry is currently working on a certain simplification. What will the difference be?

“We have prepared the methodology so that the applicants have just one application and we have one system. Everything will be electronic from now on. To transfer the very complicated, complex, and demanding limits of the commission into the methodology took us quite a lot of work. However, the end result may make the work of controlling bodies and applicants easier. I personally am a former processor of applications. I helped hospices, senior houses, and sewage disposal plants. I must say that giving 14 attachments with one grant application is way too many attachments.  There will not be that many attachments anymore, information will be passed from the basic registers. This will make everything easier, I count on that.”

Why won’t the development of tourism be supported in the programming period 2014 – 2020?

“You know, it is a bit of our own mistake. We built up many golf resorts here, aqua parks, and hotels. The commission does not want that. In 2012, the commission came with a positional document where seven areas were marked that it was not satisfied with the solutions in the Czech Republic. The area of tourism was very narrowly specified there. Tourism as a whole will not be supported, with the exception of cultural heritage. We are also negotiating with the commission the support for smaller historical sights, but I don´t mean the chapels. The commission will not provide the money for that. I mean the local museums with regional importance.”

Finally, I would like to ask about the conditionals, meaning the requirements of the European Commission, according to which we can draw the money from European funds we are entitled to if we meet our obligations.

“This is something where the Czech Republic falls short by 70%. For example we are still missing an amendment of the EIA bill, i.e. an evaluation of the impacts on our environment, though it is under preparation. By passing the amendment we may be able to stop a legitimate statement that the commission has prepared. If they send it to us, we will lose 100 billion. It is a key legislative conditional.”

What about the rest of the key conditionals?

“In the area of energy, for example, we have infringements, and the threat of European Commission proceedings against the Czech Republic. We have one year to deal with that. If we don´t make it, the commission will announce that the stated provisions we have in the operations will not be financed. They will simply send no money for that because we did not meet the condition. We, as the National Coordination Authority must come to controlling bodies and say that we are aware of a possible breach, and we must predict that. Then we have to move the money from that specific target to somewhere else. The commission allows that but we must not miss it.”

By: Jaroslav Kramer

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Source: Prague Leaders Magazine    
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