“A well-functioning state needs high-quality civil servants”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
“The civil service offers an interesting opportunity to participate in good causes, needed by society and to improve the functioning of the state as a whole. And the Chief State Secretary is not only the head of the Civil Service Section in the Ministry of the Interior, but, more importantly, he is the head of the Civil Service in the entire Czech Republic,” says Jindřich Fryč, a senior civil servant, who has held the top position since November 2022.
Can you tell us a few words about yourself?
Should I classify myself professionally, I am a senior civil servant, and my entire professional life has been de-facto linked to the civil service. Despite the various offers that have come from the private sector over the years, I have found working for the state to be meaningful and fulfilling to my idea of a working life.
This was a major reason for my decision last year to apply for the post of Chief State Secretary, and to contribute even more to the further development, direction, and modernisation of the civil service in our country, drawing on my own extensive professional experience in the civil service to date.
If I were to talk about my personal life, thanks to my four children, my family and the time spent with them is very important to me.
You are a teacher by education. What made you become a civil servant?
I worked as a primary school teacher for a few years, but almost immediately after my university studies I started working at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, where I gradually worked in a number of positions – from Administrator to Director of a Department, Director General of a Section, Deputy Minister, and State Secretary.
Although I gave up my teacher’s career, I always felt that by working at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports I remained at least a little bit faithful to my field. Working for the ministry has always made sense to me. The civil service offers an interesting opportunity to participate in good causes, needed by society and to improve the functioning of the state as a whole. It offers diverse agendas, including highly technical ones, and gives the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of fields.
From the beginning of my studies and consequently, during several years of teaching, I wanted to influence things much more than„just“ as a transfer of knowledge. I wanted to participate in the creation of the system.
I have always wanted to address a specific issue in a deeper context, for example with an overlap into the field of international relations. Nevertheless, the same preoccupation with civil service issues has also motivated me now in my decision to apply for the post of Chief State Secretary.
You have held the office of Chief State Secretary, as the head of the Civil Service Section in the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic, since November 2022. What is your role?
As you just said, the Chief State Secretary is not only the head of the Civil Service Section in the Ministry of the Interior, but, more importantly, he is the head of the Civil Service in the entire Czech Republic. Thus, the role of the Chief State Secretary consists mainly in its top position, where his competencies and powers given by the Civil Service Act are directed to the legal relations of civil servants, organisational matters of the civil service, service relations, remuneration, and management of civil service matters.
In practical terms, this is the top position within the entire civil service, with the Chief State Secretary ensuring compliance with the Civil Service Act and the rights and obligations set out therein, including the coordination of the civil service in the various Ministries and other Service Authorities. For this purpose, I work closely with the State Secretaries and Heads of Service Authorities.
Currently, you are preparing a new amendment to the Civil Service Act, which will be proposed by the government. What kind of changes does it include? How will it affect our lives?
The Government’s programme statement sets out a commitment to strive for a smart, efficient, and cost- effective state. Specific steps should enable authorities to operate more efficiently, be open, and strengthen their power.
The forthcoming amendment to the Civil Service Act, which will simplify and speed up the functioning of the civil service, (e.g. personnel procedures, increasing the emphasis on its effectiveness, rationalisation, and better mobility of civil servants within the system), should also help to achieve this goal.
Among other practical changes the amendment should bring is the rationalisation of disciplinary proceedings, streamlining of service performance appraisal and education of civil servants, streamlining of organisational matters of the civil service and facilitation of the law application, where the implementation of legislative technical changes will lead to the easier and more user- friendly application of the law.
Last but not least, it should be mentioned that the quality of the people involved in the state administration is crucial to its level of effectiveness. Therefore, the concept and position of a civil servant (official) and the related personnel matters are of particular importance for the performance of state administration. The current amendment to the Civil Service Act aims to make modern civil service of high quality and efficiency, and to make it better perceived as a good public service.
You are also preparing a comprehensive Civil Service Development Strategy, aimed at making the civil service more attractive. How and why are you doing this?
The civil service is not something abstract, but it is about specific agendas that the state provides for citizens through civil servants – and citizens, and therefore the state, need and expect the provision of these agendas. The civil service also needs to be much more„in the public eye”, as does everything it delivers to the people. This is one of the main goals for the future, which can bring about a change in the perception of the work we do.
We, therefore, want to go in the direction of making the civil service more attractive. The recently published OECD report on the state of the public administration has given us very good recommendations in this regard, with a number of recommendations, such as focusing on strengthening the employer brand, modernising and streamlining the recruitment process, focusing on developing the management skills of those in charge, strengthening the role of education and professional development, and collecting and using human resources data more effectively. And it is in light of these recommendations that we are focusing our strategic actions in the area of civil service development.
Do all these laws correspond to the EU laws?
Of course. Since the adoption of the Civil Service Act itself, we have been in continuous communication at the working level with the European Commission, which is interested in the development of the civil service and its transformation. I see this as a mutually beneficial dialogue. Last year’s successful Czech Presidency of the EU Council was an opportunity not only to discuss priority topics (e.g. ethics in the civil service) but also to present the civil service system in the Czech Republic as a whole, which brought many positives in this regard.
For your work, you received The Order of Academic Palms and the Grand Federal Cross of Merit awards. Can you tell us more about these?
First of all, I would like to say that I appreciate both awards very much. I have devoted a large part of my working life to the field of international relations and European affairs, so the awards primarily reflect my work in international relations.
At the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports I started as an Administrator Specialist for German-speaking countries, and as Director of the Youth Department I expanded the area of international cooperation to other important European countries such as France. For over 20 years, I have been directly involved in the preparation or negotiation for a number of cooperation programmes or projects with both countries, as well as several international agreements.
In the case of cooperation with Germany, what I value the most is the negotiated equivalence agreement, which fundamentally facilitates mobility in education between the two countries, or the development of cooperation between young people, which has contributed to the good neighbourly relations we have with Germany, and which we appreciate. Concerning the cooperation with France, I will mention the long- standing coordination concerning Czech-French bilingual grammar schools in our country, and the major expansion of cooperation in the area of youth in the mid-1990s. I should also mention my continued support in the field of foreign language teaching, including my personal contribution to the introduction of compulsory teaching of a second foreign language at secondary schools.
As I have already mentioned, I am truly honoured to have received both awards. In this sense, my most profound recognitions go to my colleagues, who supported me and enabled me to make it all this way.
Can you give a piece of advice to the next generation of civil servants?
For young people, working in the civil service or public administration is not attractive, and is not a “first choice after school” for a large number of them. I see this as a great risk for the future of the Czech Republic. A well- functioning state needs and will always need high- quality civil servants. Yet civil servants have nothing to be ashamed of compared to other groups of employees.
Moreover, the civil service offers them stable conditions, including salary, but also the opportunity to further self-development, as well as training and development of their talents and skills – or what they are good at. And last, but not least – you will find many really great, well- educated, and exceptionally skilled colleagues in the civil service.
If we asked you about the weirdest thing you have ever dealt with, what comes to mind?
This is a very interesting and unconventional question. There is not even a completely easy answer to it. I’m not going to mention one particular thing, but rather a long- term sense of fading tolerance between people, respect and regard for others, and perhaps the work they do, as well as a loss of willingness to listen more to others, and to what they are trying to convey. This translates into interpersonal relationships, in personal life and in the workplace.
And on the bright side, what is the best adventure you have ever had?
Every day may bring some adventures, sometimes positive and sometimes unfortunately negative, but even from adversity one can come out learned and strengthened for the days ahead. To be more personal, I consider work extremely important in my life, but I see my children and the daily joys and worries about them as the greatest adventure and responsibility in my life.