Any administrative supervision of local authorities may only be exercised according to such procedures and in such cases as are provided for by the constitution or by statute.
In the Czech Republic, supervision of local and regional authorities’ activities by central government is systematically carried out according to the Constitution or statutory law and is basically limited to the legality of those activities (Article 8 paras. 1 and 2 of the Charter). In principle, discretionary power is left with the local and regional authorities themselves, and the final word when agencies of central government think the territorial authorities have acted or decided against the law is systematically left to the judicial branch of government. In this way, the requirement for proportionality between the controlling activities and the importance of the aims pursued under Article 8 para. 3 of the Charter, seems well taken care of.
The Supreme Audit Office (SAO), an independent body, is responsible for the “audit the management of state property and financial resources collected under the law for the benefit of legal persons, with the exception of resources collected by municipalities or regions under their independent jurisdiction” (Act 166/1993, Part 2, Section 3). This means that it can only control the use of means allocated by central authorities. The SAO also controls ministries which manage subsidies granted to local authorities (for example for construction of water works).
Local authorities call on external auditors for all activities that fall outside the competence of the SAO. There is an additional “cascade” system of control through the regions, whereby the Ministry of Finance audits the regions to verify their control over the municipalities.
The rapporteurs have heard during their visit a number of complaints about an overburden due to suboptimal coordination of the controls, collection of statistical data etc. exercised by different branches of central government. Even if part at least of this supervision seems to have been directed towards activities that have little or nothing to do with the particular status of local and regional authorities (such as food and water supply hygiene), the complaints are linked to the need for a rational exploitation of limited resources in a way that clearly deserves attention by central government, possibly starting with due mapping of the problem.
It is also interesting to note that the National Reform Programme 2011 of the Czech Republic enumerates under its heading of “Concrete reform priorities”, para. 3 (a), that measures will focus on local government units in order to “increase transparency in decision making processes, both in the decision-making of policy bodies (assemblies and councils) and in decision-making at official level”. According to this, the SAO will be given the power to supervise local and regional government units; the relationship between assemblies and councils will be revised in order to prevent circumvention of the law, and assembly members will have easier access to information relevant to their decisions and supervisory activities. In addition to these steps, a register of violations will be introduced and public authorities will be required to prepare and publish a code of ethics.
It is not clear from the text whether this supervision by the SAO is intended to go beyond the verifications related to delegated tasks. However, it is clear from the above paragraph that there is a will to move towards more rigorous supervision of local authorities on the overnment’s part.
The problems raised by the Czech system of local and regional government are essentially linked to the financial system. However, the main problem is not a clear violation of Article 9 of the Charter. It lies rather in the fact that the Czech Republic has decided not to ratify important parts of that Article (paragraphs 3, 5 and 6), but behaves in accordance with these declarations and reservations (see further in the following text devoted to Article 9 paragraphs 3, 5 and 6).