Late Thursday the Chamber of Deputies passed the draft state budget for 2006 to go to a final reading. The vote is scheduled for December 2nd. The budget for next year plans for a deficit of 74.4 billion crowns (the equivalent of roughly 3 billion US dollars), with around 885 billion crowns in revenues and 959 billion in expenditures. The December vote will be based on the resolution of the Chamber of Deputies budget committee, which discussed financial transfers last week. The committee reviewed almost 1,200 modifications valued at roughly seven billion crowns, submitted by individual committees, deputies, and the public.
In related news, the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats have
called on the prime minister to dismiss David Rath as health minister,
saying his policies - including the forced administration of the VZP,
the largest state-owned insurance company - were harming patients in
the health sector. The call for Rath's dismissal was made during a
heated exchange in a Parliamentary debate on the health sector on
Thursday. The prime minister responded to the Civic Democrats in kind,
with his own charges levelled at several opposition MPs.
There have been allegations of inappropriate financial ties between some members of the Civic Democrats and the VZP, charges the Civic Democrats reject.
At the moment MPs are weighing the idea of an independent commission investigating financial management at the VZP. Debate on the health sector is to continue next week.
A district court in Prerov has cleared former counter intelligence agent Vladimir Hucin of all charges. Mr Hucin had been charged with illegal possession of weapons, abuse of power and four other crimes that he was to have committed in the 1990s when he was a member of the BIS counterintelligence service. He had faced up to ten years in prison. Mr Hucin had always denied the allegations and said his case was a political one, as he tried to expose the infiltration of communists into the country's state administration.
President Vaclav Klaus has issued nine official pardons in cases that include that of a woman abused by her husband, who shot and injured her husband and had been serving a five-year prison sentence. Mr Klaus also shortened a six-year sentence to three for another Czech woman, Jaroslava Tausova, convicted for embezzlement. The president's spokesman said on Thursday that in the cases the pardons were motivated by "humanitarian aspects".
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has said he would like to see Health Minister
David Rath head the Social Democrats' list of Prague candidates in
elections next June. The prime minister made the statement on Thursday,
stressing that the Social Democrats needed a strong leader in Prague to
face off against opposition Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolanek. The
Social Democrats have been seeking for an appropriate candidate for some
time. Previously, the prime minister pushed for the deputy prime minister
for the economy, Martin Jahn, to top the list, but Mr Jahn turned his
offer down. Former Czech EU Commissioner Pavel Telicka was also
considered, but he also refused.
So far, the Health Minister David Rath has viewed the offer favourably, saying he was likely "to accept".
Czech ice hockey forward Jaromir Jagr is currently atop the NHL's players' list of goals and assists, one point ahead of Swedish star Peter Forsberg. Jagr has had 20 goals and 17 assists for his team the New York Rangers since the start of the season, for a total of 37. Most recently Jagr helped his team defeat the Buffalo Sabres in a deciding shoot-out.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has told journalists that the abolition of an existing screening law', as proposed Wednesday by the Communist Party, can wait. The prime minister suggested the proposal could be put on the backburner for one or two years, stressing he would not risk the disintegration of the coalition government over the issue. On Wednesday Mr Paroubek expressed support for abolishing the screening law which bans former agents or police officers in former Czechoslovakia's communist regime from holding civil service posts. Mr Paroubek said the legislation had fulfilled its role and was no longer necessary. But, his statement angered both coalition parties, which consider the abolishing of the law unacceptable.
The body of a 25-year-old Czech student has reportedly been found on Japan's Mount Fuji. The climber went missing earlier this week, apparently slipping during his descent from the 3,776-meter summit. Officials believe the Czech climber survived his initial fall but could not make it through freezing conditions on the mountain at night.
The lower house of the Czech Parliament has approved the introduction of passports with biometric data, namely digital photographs and fingerprints. The European Union decided to introduce passports with microchips that hold such data last year. The Interior Ministry says Czech passports with electronic images of the holders' faces will be issued in mid-2006; passports with digital fingerprints in 2008. One of the conditions for the United States to consider waving the visa requirement for Czech citizens is the introduction of such passports.
Several dozen people gathered at Prague's Malostranske namesti, or Lesser Town Square on Wednesday to call onto the government to allocate more money to the cultural sector. The Czech Parliament is currently discussing the state budget for next year. The current proposal earmarks less than 0.5 percent of the budget to the Culture Ministry; the EU average is one percent of the state budget. The amount allocated to culture in the Czech Republic has been decreasing gradually since 1998. This year, is the first time that it has reached below the 0.5 percent mark.