Czech gov’t seeks term limits for secret services chiefs

Draft law would limit the mandates of BIS and ÚZSI bosses in a bid to reduce risk of abuse of power and boost political independence

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The proposed law on the General Inspectorate of Security Services (GIBS) approved by the government in June to allow for the investigation of crimes committed by police, penitentiary workers, customs officers and firefighters also counts on unifying the mandates for the heads of the Czech secret services.

It would also allow the directors of the domestic and foreign intelligence services — the Security Information Service (BIS) and Office for Foreign Relations and Information (ÚZSI), respectively — to serve a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms in office.

The aim of the bill’s authors (the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Finance) is to limit the potential corruption of influential officials who come into regular contact with highly sensitive information. As Czech Position has reported, it was the smallest party in the coalition government, Public Affairs (VV), that was behind the idea of limiting the mandates of the BIS and ÚZSI chiefs and responsible for its inclusion in the draft law.

Two powerful sentences

Currently, the government appoints the BIS head while the Interior Minister nominates the ÚZSI chief for the government’s approval. Their terms in office, however, are not limited, and thus arises the risk that the intelligence chiefs can extract information for personal gain — and use it to remain in power as long as possible.Two inconspicuous sentences in the draft law on GIBS would change the current rules.

Former ÚZSI chief Karel Randák is among those who welcomes the introduction of term limits, as he is convinced that defining the duration of mandates reduces the risk for abuse of power.

“It is definitely the right decision and standard practice abroad. It will lead to a better system than the one now in place, where the director has no term restrictions but also lacks certainty,” Randák told Czech Position. “If the director knows he has five years in office, he can try to build something … If he doesn’t get into trouble, he should stay in the function.”

Randák stressed that the suggested five-year mandate does not correspond to the parliamentary election cycle. “The winning side would otherwise be tempted to manipulate things,” he said, adding that the same goes for the State Prosecutors.

Countdown from 2012

The draft law on the GIBS will be considered at Tuesday’s extraordinary session of the lower house of Parliament. If approved by MPs, it will go into effect on January 1, 2012, from which time the five-year terms of the current secretive services chiefs will begin. Jiří Lang has been heading BIS since 2003 and Ivo Schwarz has been head of ÚZSI since 2007.

The only head of a state security service whose term would not be amended under the draft law on GIBS is the director of the Military Intelligence (VI), who is appointed by the Defense Minister. However, since the law does not cover investigations into crimes committed by soldiers, Ondrej Páleník, the VZ head since 2007, is outside its scope and will remain in place.

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