The leaders of the three ruling parties – the Civic Democrats, TOP O9 and Public Affairs are meeting to debate the future of the coalition government following more scandalous revelations about the junior coalition party Public Affairs and the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Radek John. Although the centre-right parties shelved their differences a month ago in the interest of implementing key reforms, unresolved problems and renewed hostilities have once again thrown the cabinet into turmoil. Public Affairs has laid down a number of conditions for its continuation in the government –a rewrite of the coalition agreement, the dismissal of three ministers from the two stronger parties and four ministerial posts for itself. Meanwhile the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 have heard calls from inside party ranks that it would be better to throw the junior party overboard and continue as a minority cabinet.
Public confidence in President Václav Klaus has fallen to an all-time low of 47%, according to a poll published by the STEM agency. The poll suggests strong opinions on Mr Klaus, with one in ten Czechs saying he has their absolute trust and one in five saying they have no confidence in him whatsoever. STEM recorded relatively high confidence in the president only last December, when 63% of respondents showed trust in Mr Klaus. The public was roughly split on the president’s response to the recent government crisis, when he refused to endorse the dismissal of three cabinet ministers.
The government approved a number of key bills on Wednesday covering several primary policy issues. Among them is an important act on public tenders, proposed by the Public Affairs party, which is intended to increase their transparency and restrict manipulation. The proposal envisions stricter rules for newly conceived “special tenders”, publishing contracts involving sums of more than half a million crowns, and the cancellation of orders in which there is insufficient competition. Public Affairs considers the bill its most important, and wants it voted on in Parliament together with a vote of confidence in the government.
Other bills approved by the cabinet on Wednesday include the new Civil Code. No major changes were made to the bill’s 3,000 paragraphs, which make it the most extensive modification of Czech legislature in 50 years. The code’s five sections deal with questions of private and family law, property questions, and contract law as well as inheritance issues. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs pushed through the first part of its reform package, which includes an amendment to disability benefits, welfare services and state-provided social aid. The final version of the reforms grants concessions for complaints posed by disabled persons. The key bill of the Defence Ministry, the “White Book” that charts the development of the army for the next decade, was also approved. In addition defining to general principles of the army, the bill also cancels a number of military training grounds and units.
Ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský has threatened to resign if none of his eight legal recommendations are affected. The public law investigator submitted the proposed amendments to Parliament in early April, to fix what he sees as the most pressing legal issues. Primary among them is the renewal of unemployment support for laid off workers not receiving severance pay. Others involve annuities for orphans and the treatment of inmates in psychiatric wards. Mr Varvařovský’s approach to pursuing legislation differs from that of his predecessor, the late Otakar Motejl, who gave Parliament two to three times more recommendations annually but saw few of them enacted. The new ombudsman has said he will introduce fewer proposals, but insist on their ratification all the more.
Companies with anonymous owners received roughly eight billion crowns in public tenders last year, according to statistics published by the zIndex project. The largest such sums were paid by the state forestry company Lesy ČR, the road transport authority Ředitelství silnic a dálnic and Czech Railways’ ČD Cargo. Anonymously owned companies won 330 public tenders worth 8.1 billion in 2010. The statistics show a slight decrease from 2009 in the number of tenders and their worth, however it is roughly three times higher than 2006, when anonymous companies received 2.2 billion for 116 orders for public works.
Drivers’ licence applicants in Prague are facing delays due to a police investigation into 14 commissioners suspected of accepting bribes. Only five commissioners remain at the licensing office of Prague City Hall, which was raided on Monday by detectives from the police anti-corruption department. The remaining officials are only able to process a fourth of the usual number of applicants, and have asked commissioners in retirement and in regions to fill the gap. By law, City Hall must test applicants within 15 days of receiving a request.
Trade unions are expected to decide on the possibility of striking next week in protest against government reforms. The confederation of trade unions says that most of its members will strike should the transport unions do so. The deputy chairman of the confederation told a press conference on Wednesday that the situation among unions is tense and that many of them are looking for bolder action. They are to meet on Wednesday to discuss their next steps.
Czech film director Jiří Menzel has been awarded the order of merit of the president of Romania for his contribution to culture. Mr Menzel was in Bucharest on Wednesday to receive the distinction from Foreign Minister Keleman Hunor. The award, he said, was an unexpected honour, particularly as he had not known he was to receive it before arriving in the country. A retrospective of Menzel’s films is underway in the Romanian capital; the director said he was surprised at the high turnout for the event and that he did not know his films were so popular there.
The Czech government has decided to give the recently married British Prince William and his wife a wedding present – a five year old stallion from the National Stud. The couple however has apparently asked that the horse remain stabled in the Czech Republic and that a sample of its “genetic material”, likely sperm, be sent ahead, Prime Minister Petr Nečas told the press on Wednesday. This is apparently to check that the animal is a thoroughbred. The horse, named Favory Alta XXI, is from one of the oldest lines of the oldest Czech breeds, the Kladruber, and is valued at 730,000 crowns. It has an outstanding pedigree, with its sire having competed in world and European and championships. Agriculture Minister Ivan Fuksa, who recommended the gift, said it was an exceptional opportunity to promote the country, its famous stud farm and popularise the breed in the royal courts of Europe.
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