Press Conference Remarks by Angel Gurría
Bratislava, Slovak Republic, 21 June 2017
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Minister Kažimír, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be back in Bratislava to present the OECD’s 2017 Economic Survey of the Slovak Republic. I would like to thank in particular Minister Drucker and Plavčan and their teams for the very positive collaboration. Your insights have been very useful for this Economic Survey – the 11th we have produced for the Slovak Republic.
Let me start with some good news. With GDP growth averaging 4.0% over the last 16 years, since joining the OECD, the Slovak economy has been one of the most dynamic economies in the OECD! Moreover, thanks to its international competitiveness, the economy is projected to stay strong in the next two years, contributing to a sound fiscal situation and declining unemployment.
Slovaks also do at least as well as the OECD average on a number of well-being dimensions. For example, at 8%, the poverty rate is low relative to the OECD average of 11% and the income of the richest 10% was 6.6 times as high as that of the poorest 10%, well below the OECD average ratio of almost 10 times. Work-life balance and social connections indicators are also good: in fact, 92.3% of the population report that they have friends or relatives they can count on in times of trouble, compared to the OECD average of 88%.
Despite the strong economic performance, Slovakia continues to face some important challenges
Educational outcomes remain below the OECD average and are declining. The government has taken important steps to address this challenge with the development of a dual vocational education and training system relying on work-based learning.
Still, further efforts are needed. The poor education outcomes are in part due to weak motivation and training of teachers. Higher teacher salaries, particularly at the beginning of teachers’ careers, could help address this issue. However, they need to be conditional on improved teaching quality. In addition, the government should raise pre-school attendance for poorer, especially Roma children, through conditional cash transfers.
The quality of tertiary education also needs to be enhanced as many students prefer studying abroad. Promoting a more transparent and independent quality-assurance system and boosting funding for internationally recognised research could help raise quality.
Finally, participation in adult training programmes should be further encouraged. One quarter of adults is fully computer illiterate and unprepared to use ICT, compared to only 10% on average in the OECD.
In addition, despite substantially increased health-care spending since 2000, the health status of Slovaks remains poor by international standards. Mortality which could be avoided through better health care is twice as high as the EU average. Widely perceived mismanagement of public health-care spending is a source of general discontent, as are frequent informal payments, and difficulty in accessing out-patient medical services in rural areas.
Steps have been taken to enhance public procurement procedures in hospitals and improve efficiency and resource allocation in the health sector overall. Initiatives are underway to rationalise hospital care financing and to cut the excessive number of acute-care beds. But additional efforts are needed to professionalise hospital management and further centralise hospital procurement.
The Economic Survey highlights that improving the efficiency and quality of primary care is also critical. This requires further increasing the number of general practitioners, removing restrictions on their prescription-writing authority and improving incentives to attract them to rural areas.
Last but not least, improving public sector governance remains paramount. Despite notable progress in the collection of VAT since 2012, tax evasion still undermines revenues and the system’s fairness. The government is working on this, and our main advice here is to link the IT systems of the tax administrations and the banks in order to further curb tax evasion.
In addition, the expenditure review – the so- called “Value-for-Money initiative” – launched in 2016 is also an excellent programme. It should be deepened to foster efficiency of public spending in many areas, especially transport and health-care.
Promoting a culture of integrity and resilience to corruption are also crucial. Recognising this, the OECD and the Slovak Republic agreed last January to work even more closely together to promote integrity and to fight corruption. In the first phase of our collaboration, the OECD conducted an “Assessment of key anti-corruption related legislation in the Slovak Republic”. I am pleased to have presented the results of this assessment to Prime Minister Fico this morning and to now share it with you.
Part of the OECD review concerned the legal framework for whistleblower protection. The Slovak Republic is one of the few Central European countries that have joined a growing number of OECD countries to enact a comprehensive whistleblower protection law. While this is a very welcome, the Slovak Republic may consider expanding the scope of the law to cover all public servants and providing appropriate incentives and training for reporting misconduct.
I am also happy to note that the OECD and the Slovak Republic are planning a second phase of co-operation to review the functioning of the whole integrity system.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Slovakia’s impressive performance at a difficult time in the world economy is indeed a shining example for many countries. But as you continue to face significant challenges, now is the time to ensure that you remain on a sustainable and inclusive growth path.
The OECD remains committed to support your efforts to pursue our shared goal of better policies for better lives, in Slovakia. Count on us!