Wednesday, April 22

UOHS. Not fit for purpose. (Part 2)


After reading about the absurd decision of UOHS regarding Klasa, I told myself that this could only be the decision of a person or people who have never hired or worked with a communications agency. And after all, there are many intelligent business people who have never done that. So it seemed reasonable to ask about the professional backgrounds of those at UOHS who worked on the case, and to enquire if they thought to hire external help from a consultant who does understand the business of marketing communications. If (as I suspected) they had not been able to use such expertise, then at least we could identify this as the problem, and propose a potential resolution; UOHS should seek wider business experience within their senior team, and sometimes also hire external specialists who can help them understand how a market, which they are investigating, works.

So, under the Freedom of Information law, and using the website set up to facilitate that process, I tried to find out about the professional experience of the UOHS team that had made the decision. I asked for their CVs but was careful to make clear that I expected personal information to be deleted. I expected the professional experience of senior State employees (whose salaries we pay) to be valid information under the law, and the website already carried examples of similar requests being answered, not least by the Ministry of Justice. But UOHS embarked upon a long process of blocking my every attempt  to find out anything at all about the professional experience of the people involved. For those who wish to see exactly how they conducted this "dialogue" and who speak fluent Czech, it's best if I direct you to this page where you can explore all my questions and their answers. For non-Czech speakers, let me summarise the "highlights":

-       It was claimed that five people were involved in the decision, including UOHS Chairman Petr Rafaj. Apart from the career of Mr Rafaj, outlined in modest detail on the website, their career details cannot be revealed as it would "infringe their human rights."

-       Despite providing evidence that it is very easy to show CVs under an FOI request without providing personal data, UOHS claimed this was impossible.

-       UOHS revealed that an external committee was also involved in the decision. I could not be provided with the CVs of the members of this committee, because the information "does not exist". JUDr Hynek Brom , one of the UOHS top honchos, helpfully wrote a couple of pages of legal text so that I could understand why information which does not exist cannot be provided under FOI law. (you and I the taxpayers, pay for his work).

It's also noticeable that UOHS deliberately tried to cause as many problems as possible to me in my use of the website to ask the questions. Every single answer was followed by a longer answer (which they insisted on sending by post (registered of course, so I made many trips to the post office). We made sure we re-posted these answers to the website. You can read that they go on and on typically for 4 pages. They knew that I was involved with the website, and monitored closely my use of it. We know this because one day they rang the contact number on the website to complain that I had not used the website facility  to acknowledge the provision of the "information" they had sent me!

I asked Oldrich Kužilek, the leading expert on FOI, to review my case. His answer was that their responses were clearly unsatisfactory; so he recommended to take them to court. But that is the weakness of the Czech FOI law. We do not have a FOI ombudsman (Mr Kužilek would be ideal in this role). In the UK the Information Commissioner plays this role, and has wide powers to enforce compliance. Offices such as UOHS know perfectly well that very few citizens will go to court for something like this.

But why are they so resistant to a simple request to present the professional CVs of their senior people? What are they hiding? After all, in its document "Office in a nutshell: UOHS tells us: For the Office, the requirement for transparency is one of the most important priorities

Well in the lack of any better information, I can find no evidence that any senior manager at UOHS has any significant private sector business experience. The UOHs website itself says "Majority of the employees are lawyers and economists". Maybe they do not want to admit to this lack of business experience.

However, and only thank to my questions, I also learnt about the existence of the external committees. They appear to have significant influence on cases, but they are not employees of UOHS. They are not mentioned at all on the main website. You can only find the list of committees and their members buried deep in an answer UOHS gave to another FOI request in 2014, but we attach it here. We are apparently not allowed to learn the basis on which they are appointed or deployed, and how much they are paid for such work. That is a pity because if you inspect the list of members of Brno committee no1., the committee apparently involved in the Klasa case, you find the name of Mgr.Petra Rafajova. Again we cannot be sure but from a Google search we conclude that Petra Rafajova is likely to be the wife of UOHS Chairman, Petr Rafaj. Whatever her relationship to him, we have established that he can appoint her and anyone he chooses to any of these committees, and we are allowed absolutely no explanation about the competence of these people and what they are paid. Yet they influence some of the most important business decisions of the Czech Republic.

It surely cannot be good for the country that one man (Petr Rafaj) can appoint committees of people who are effectively freelancers and yet influence decisions that can affect the health of the entire economy. It also cannot be healthy that the Office will use extraordinary bureaucratic rules to prevent us from learning more about these people. It is all further evidence that UOHS is not fit for purpose.

OK, many criticisms. But what can be done about it? In part 3 I will offer some answers to that question.


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