“People´s committees of the socialist era functioned as self-government bodies in villages, towns, and regions”.More than two thirds of respondents (69%) agreed with the claim according to the April 2018 poll carried out by the FOCUS agency.
Facts and disproval of the myth ↓
The basic principles serving as foundations for a territorial self-government system in a democratic decentralized state are defined by the Council of Europe European Charter of Local Self-Government.
People´s committees did not comply with the basic definition of local self-government
In Article 3, the Charter defines local self-government as the right and authority of local bodies to administer and manage, within legal limits, a substantial part of public affairs falling under their jurisdiction for the benefit of local inhabitants, while this right is exercised by councils or authorities the members of which are freely elected based on the direct, equal and general right to vote through secret voting and which may have subordinated executive bodies at disposal.
During the CSSR era, national committees did not meet the basic definition of local self-government under the Charter. They did not exercise any self-government powers for the benefit of local inhabitants but represented the state power and acted in the name and in favour of the communist party that was in the leading power within the society based on the constitution. Representatives of citizens in people´s committees were not elected through free elections.
People´s committees were not autonomous
As concerns powers of territorial self-government authorities, Article 4 of the Charter states that public administration shall be carried out primarily by those authorities that are the closest to citizens while the powers granted to local authorities are usually full and exclusive. No central or regional authority may violate those powers except in the cases stipulated by law. Local authorities should have the right to act, within the law, as concerns all affairs that are not excluded from their scope of powers or those that do not fall under the scope of powers of other authority.
But not even this principle was respected within the hierarchical structure of people´s committees because lower-level people´s committees were subject to orders issued by higher-level people´s committees.
People´s committees did not have the fiscal autonomy inherent to self-governments
Pursuant to Article 9 of the Charter, local authorities should be entitled to adequate own financial resources that they may use freely within exercise of their powers and at least a part of the funds of local authorities should be generated through local taxes and fees the amounts of which should be determined by relevant local authorities within the law.
The financial management of people´s committees was based on the budget that they drew up as a part of the state budget. On one hand, pursuant to the law, municipal people´s committees had the right to manage local fees as their budgetary incomes but the types of fees that municipal people´s committees were to collect were determined by the government and the minister of finance could decide that a specific fee would be managed by a district or regional people´s committee as its budgetary income. Moreover, the government determined when and what fee tariffs were to be determined by people´s committees. Thus, people´s committees did not have the real fiscal autonomy inherent to real self-government authorities.
People´s committees were not self-governments
The local and regional public administration during the post-war period until 1990 cannot be defined as self-governing but as exercising powers of the state represented de facto by one party only – the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia that held the monopoly over power and ruling (more in chapter 3.2 Self-government and elections).