Ministries

The government is a body that makes political decisions; the drafts of resolutions and regulations are prepared in the relevant ministries. The latter total 12 and they have divided most areas of state activity amongst themselves. The most important ministries are those in charge of taxation and the state budget, i.e. the ministries of finance, social and foreign affairs.

Despite the fact that each minister is responsible for questions within his area of government, the ministers and ministries lack extensive and essential jurisdiction to execute state power — this is directly tackled by institutions at a lower level. The duty of a minister does not exceed the general direction of his administrative area and supervision of lower-level institutions (offices, inspectorates, state institutions administered by the government, etc.). The minister of finance is indeed responsible for taxation policy, but is not involved in collecting taxes. The task of the ministry is to put together laws on taxation, i.e. to shape the general taxation policy. The actual collecting of taxes falls to the tax board, subordinated to the ministry, whose activities are continually supervised by the minister of finance.

As the minister is the political head of the ministry (in the structure of the authority of executive power the only other person having a directly political role is the minister’s political advisor of whom there may be 2–3, depending on the ministry) the essential work of a ministry is in reality conducted by a professional leader, or chancellor, who should be apolitical and ensure continuity in the functioning of the ministry. The job of chancellor, however, tends to become increasingly politicised. Although he is a state official, he is nominated by the government and, even more importantly, the government has the right to relieve him of office if the minister finds that their co-operation is not too successful. As a rule, the chancellor has to enjoy the minister’s political trust, and therefore his position is quite unstable.

The chancellor’s ambiguous position between politicians and officials lucidly demonstrates how difficult it is to separate political leadership and administration. Until 2001 the chancellor was still an official whose dismissal was by no means an easy matter. A change in this law was brought about by various frictions between ministers and chancellors — the ministers sometimes thought the chancellors could obstruct the carrying out of government-approved policies and the realisation of relevant aims within the area of government of the ministry.

According to the law, no other ministry official except the chancellor could be dismissed from office on political grounds. In return, the official has a duty to carry out political decisions without question. Only if they have doubts about the legality of a decision do they have certain rights to try to hinder the realisation of the decision. In cases where an official receives an order from his superior that in his opinion is in violation of the law, he has the right, and indeed the duty, to inform the superior about the unlawfulness of the decision. The order must be complied with when it is repeated in written form, but in that case the official bears no direct legal responsibility.

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