An audit at the Czech Interior Ministry has disclosed serious flaws in public procurement, some of which will be investigated by the police, Interior Minister Radek John told reporters on Monday. The audit found that many public orders were split to avoid tenders; calls for suppliers often lacked crucial even-access rules, and officials often approached companies with no relevant experience. Mr John also said the audit showed poor financial management at the ministry and cases of conflict of interests. The police are already investigating a 200-million deal on protective gear for the fire brigade.
President Václav Klaus appointed on Monday Civic Democrat Tomáš Chalupa the new environment minister. Mr Chalupa, who served as spokesman to the president and was elected in November the mayor of Prague 6, replaces Pavel Drobil who was forced to step down in the wake of a corruption scandal. The 36-year-old Chalupa, the seventh environment minister in two years, said he wanted to lead the ministry rationally, without dogmas and ideologies, and to focus on climate protection, flood management and issues at the Šumava National Park. Several Czech NGOs as well as the opposition criticized Mr Chalupa’s lack of experience with the environmental agenda; however, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said Mr Chalupa was a talented and hardworking politician with an international perspective.
A court in Prague launched on Monday insolvency proceedings against the country’s biggest betting firm, Sazka. The company has generated a debt of around 10 billion crowns, mainly related to the 2004 construction of Prague’s O2 Arena. Part of the debt, amounting to some 1.5 billion, has been acquired by financier Radovan Vítek, who gave the company until Monday to pay it back. As that did not happen, Mr Vítek asked the court to start insolvency proceedings against the betting giant. The court has called on Sazka’s creditors to lodge claims against the firm. For their part, Sazka management does not recognize any claims by Mr Vítek, and maintains the firm is sound.
The newly appointed US ambassador to the Czech Republic, Norman Eisen, arrived in Prague on Monday, some 10 days before he’s scheduled to present his credentials to President Václav Klaus. Mr Eisen’s nomination for the post of US ambassador to Prague, that has been vacant for two years, had been pushed through by President Barack Obama without the approval of the US Congress. Norman Eisen, the former ethics advisor to President Obama, said he believed his stay in the Czech Republic would be one of the most interesting experiences in his life.
A Prague attorney has dismissed charges against Milan Jančík, a controversial former mayor of Prague 5 district, the news agency ČTK reported on Monday. Mr Jančík was charged with abuse of power he allegedly committed in handling municipal funds. The attorney said the charges raised against Mr Jančík by the police were “unreviewable”, and therefore ungrounded in law. Before he stepped down as mayor last June, Civic Democrat Milan Jančík faces a series of corruption allegations, related mostly to the sale and purchase of municipal property.
The senior coalition party, the Civic Democrats, have criticized the selection procedure for the new police chief, as outlined by their partner in collation, the Public Affairs party. The head of the party, and Interior Minister Radek John, put together a board that should pick the new police chief, and offered two seats on the ten-member committee to the opposition Social Democrats. Civic Democrat MPs, Jan Vidím and Jana Černochová, told reporters on Monday the procedure was in breach of the Czech Armed Forces Act, and was tailored to a particular candidate.
Water levels continued to fallback from danger levels on Czech rivers on Monday. The highest, level three, warnings were in force at six sites on Monday morning. Half of these were on the Elbe river, at Mělnik, Ústí nad Labem and Děčíň, where river levels are still rising. Roads are still cut in Ústí nad Labem as a result. Experts say that the river levels there could rise by a further half metre but should then recede. The floods claimed their first victim on Saturday when a canoeist was drowned after his boat capsized on the river Bystřice near Olomouc.
Prices of potatoes in the Czech Republic have skyrocketed, according to figures released by the country’s Statistical Office on Monday. Due to a poor harvest, the price of potatoes on the Czech market rose by 70 percent year-on-year. Prices of other commodities, such as tomatoes, peppers, and carrot, have also registered a steep rise. Potato growers say that poor weather conditions last year yielded a poor harvest.
The statue of 82 children at Lidice, which commemorates the destruction of the central Bohemian village by the Nazis in 1942, is complete again. On Monday, Lidice Memorial workers replaced one of the statues that had been stolen with a bronze replica. Since November, when the statue was stolen, donors sent some 150,000 crowns to pay for the renovation of the memorial. The thieves were never caught.
The archbishop of Olomouc, Jan Graubner, has been forced to return early to the Czech Republic from Haiti. The bishop was on what was scheduled to be a week long tour of humanitarian work being carried out by the Czech branch of the Caritas organization. The visit was cut short following the abduction of two charity workers with their kidnappers demanding a ransom of 100,000 dollars for the two women. Tension has built in the country struck by a devastating earthquake a year ago and more recently hit by a cholera outbreak with the outcome of the first round of a presidential election being contested. The Czech branch of Caritas has around 13 humanitarian workers in Haiti.
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