Reorganization of government institutes makes no sense from a professional or public policy point of view – HCLU

January 5, 2017

Translation of “The new year is upon us, supporting institutions are being eliminated — and this is a huge problem” published by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) on January 4, 2017.

The government said it would happen, and it finally did: numerous government institutions and agencies have either been merged or completely wound up. Why is this a problem? What were these agencies doing before? What will they do now?  And what will become of their responsibilities after the reorganization?  We explain.

  • Indecisive organizations, loss of independent decision-making, and poor processes — this is what we can expect. The new system simply will not work.
  • It may be surprising, but the biggest problem right now is not that budgets have been slashed and workers have been cast to the wind.
  • There will no longer be a separation of political decisions, day-to-day operations, and regulatory issues.
  • While the independence of these government agencies was questionable before, what was left of their independence will now really disappear.
  • Institutions with conflicting interests have been merged, and for this reason it is certain not to work.

Indecisive organizations, loss of independent decision-making, and poor processes

Hungary’s system of separating government ministries and agencies has existed for about 10 years. The fundamental purpose of the ministries is to prepare the government’s decisions. When the government makes a decision or chooses an alternative between professionally acceptable alternatives, it is the job of the ministry to prepare the legal environment, that is, the law or decree for the decision. Agencies, however, perform the professional work needed to execute the assignment. For example, the purpose of the Healthcare Supplies Agencies is to manage the upkeep of State Healthcare Reserve, to make all the health care supplies. Now, these agencies have been folded into the ministries, thereby mixing politics with professional expertise. This will lead to problems.

Why is it a problem if a government minister-led agency loses its independence?

There are three reasons. The first danger is that agency decisions will be politically motivated. What can be hazardous to the operation of an agency and its independence? Obviously politics. If the decision-makers end up inside the ministry, the mere appearance of independence is lost. As a consequence, from this point on there is no barrier which would prevent political discrimination, or favoritism when it comes to awarding important political projects to individuals with close ties to politicians.

The second danger is that professional control will be lost. Until now, the historical protection agency, through its role in approving construction permits, was capable of preventing historical monuments from being ruined. By folding this agency into a ministry, the formal barrier of institutional independence will be lost and may give way for outside interests to dictate such activities.

The third danger stems from too many activities being performed in the same place. Activities will be mixed up. Just imagine, how would it be possible for a patient’s rights representative to take action against a hospital if both work in the same ministry? This would happen in the very same ministry that has done nothing else in recent years other than to claim that “everything is fine in the healthcare system”.

Why is this good for the government and what will the consequences be?

The new mega institutions which will be created simply cannot be held accountable. There is no leader capable of managing several thousand employees, dealing with the professional issues, or simply being aware of what everyone is doing.

Therefore, the new system will not be any more effective, it makes prudent decision-making impossible, and it further debilitates an already handicapped public administration system. The reorganization makes no sense from a professional or public policy point of view. The only reason to actually do this is to totally take over these institutions. Public administration is already a top-down process; the system waits for political orders. In a system like this, no one will do anything until a minister nods in approval. It is impossible to tell what will happen once this new system is approved. But what we do see is that we, as a civil rights organization, will have more work than ever in 2017.