by František Dostálek, President of American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic:
Many of us in business, and the wider community as well, have made the mistake of believing that elections decide the direction of the country. Elections do create the possibility for change, and set the probabilities for that change, but they do not make the change itself. That happens between elections.
Major change requires parties to treat the voters in the same after elections that they do before them. By nature, parties act in ways that increase their power over the apparatus of the state. Before elections, this requires parties to maximize their representation in parliament. To get our vote, parties promise what we desire. After the elections, parties focus on increasing their influence over the agencies and decisions of the state. Often, increasing this power involves “cartel” agreements with other parties that enhance all parties’ power over the state, and diminishes the ability of other parties to challenge this hold on power in the next election. Without a civil society demanding that parties continue to pay attention to the demands of the public, parties can become tools of oligarchic interests whose primary interest is the control of state power. Elections become a charade of charismatic leaders making empty promises. The real battle then comes after the elections, when parties can pursue their interest without the distraction of a passive public. As with every democratic society, we must carefully assess whether the balance of power in our society has shifted from democratic elections to oligarchic manoeuvering between elections.
This election was not about who we wanted to run the country. It was more about who we did not. Judging from the mass media, the social media, and conversations over beer, it is clear that most people voted for the party they disliked the least. The results did not signal a victory for any power, but survival for those parties who made it into parliament. The country is not left with a feeling of satisfaction, of progress, or hope, but of worry of what will come next. While it would be easy to blame politicians and political parties for this state of affairs, it would be far more useful to examine our own role. For it is not political parties who are failing to assert their own interests, but the representatives of legitimate business community.
We have reached a crucial moment in the development of our country. We can find the will and energy to go forward, or we can continue our descent down the competitiveness rankings. The momentum of the Velvet Revolution has dissipated. The golden days of CzechInvest have receded into memory. We, like most other developed countries, face a daily challenge to retain and create jobs, and to generate enough wealth that prosperity can spread to all parts of society. We cannot expect anyone else to subsidize our growth, or to provide us with solutions to our challenges. We must innovate incessantly, intelligently, and intensively, not only in factories and science labs, but in the parliament, ministries and mayor’s offices throughout the country.
Government must become a competitive advantage to the companies and entrepreneurs who discover and refine the products that generate prosperity. That cannot happen if the great divide between the state and innovative business continues to exist. We cannot expect the political parties who control the agencies of state to understand the urgency of our common situation and bridge the gap. We must assume the responsibility ourselves, as individuals in this society, and leaders in our business. We must change our own behavior if we expect those in government to change theirs.
AmCham is a platform we can use for doing this. The elections proved that our long-term priorities are more relevant than ever. Starting today, we will be pursuing a two part action plan for turning our country’s great potential into reality.
One part will concentrate on economic development. We will promote a fair tax policy that encourages investment and job creation, and that will last longer than one election period, or one budget cycle. We will push for a research and development policy that results in value-added production and exports, so that the wider population can benefit from public subsidies to scientists. We will encourage the development of advanced manufacturing capabilities so that our workforce makes the Czech Republic much more successful in the developing and making products. We will work to harmonize the development strategies of Prague, Brno and Ostrava so that our cities- the engines of our economic development- benefit from each other’s growth instead of engaging in a fruitless competition for national resources. We will try to define a consensus objective for health care reform and to challenge private sector specialists to develop tools to measure health outcomes in a way that makes the system more efficient.
The second part will focus on good government. We will continue to implement effective public procurement. We will campaign for the reform of political party finance and for greater citizen participation in the funding of those parties. We will advocate a civil service reform which not only makes decision-making more transparent and less politically influenced, but also turns government service into an attractive career prospect for bright and ambitious individuals in the country.
This country needs and deserves changes. We see no need to wait to see who will form the government and who will man each ministry. We should not let the weeks of political wrangling distract us from the far more important task of forging the economic future of our country.
If you are willing to work with fellow members to achieve these goals, we would welcome your help. You can contribute by lending your expertise to specifying our priorities, or by assisting us in shaping our public advocacy campaign or in spreading this message to other important associations and potential partners. It is time for the business community to stop waiting for the government to solve the challenges facing this country, and to do our part.
I look forward to your comment, and to working with you.