The Czech Prime Minister, Jan Fischer, has asked the finance minister and other public shareholders of the energy giant ČEZ to make sure the firm’s anti-theft policies do not breach the law. The state-controlled ČEZ has come under criticism after Czech media published on Tuesday graphic video footage depicting the training of the company’s anti theft unit. Another video also showed that a man, suspected of stealing electricity, allegedly committed suicide. The prime minister said each individual and company has the right to protect themselves from crime, but that such protection must be in compliance with the law. ČEZ CEO, Martin Roman, admitted that the anti-theft squad made some “mistakes” in the past. However, the squad needed proper training as they often face criminal gangs stealing electricity from ČEZ, Mr Roman added.
In related news, ČEZ CEO Martin Roman temporarily suspended the head of the company’s controversial anti-theft unit, Karel Vaniš. A ČEZ spokesman said Mr Vaniš was carrying a weapon during one of the squad’s raids that took place in 2006. The company’s management reportedly only learned of the incident on Thursday, and asked the police to look into the case.
The Czech ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, warned on Thursday that thousands of
the country’s disabled were on the verge of poverty. Mr Motejl told
reporters that a Czech law aimed at protecting the handicapped should
quickly be amended; if MPs fail to do so, many disabled Czechs will face
The relevant act was tightened in 2009 as part of a government drive to combat welfare abuse. It now only grants disability pensions to people who had previously worked and paid social insurance. Those with the most serious disabilities who were unable to work, however, are as of January 2010 not eligible for any state subsidies. The ombudsman believes the current situation is a breach of their constitutional rights.
The Czech National Bank announced on Thursday its prediction that the country’s gross domestic product will grow by 1.4 percent this year. The bank’s governor, Zdeněk Tůma, said their outlook for the economy had not changed from the previous estimate, released in January. Meanwhile, experts from the International Monetary Fund, who visited the Czech Republic last month, said they expected the Czech economy to grow by 1.5 percent in 2010, and the Czech Finance Ministry predicts a growth of 1.3 percent.
In related news, the Czech National Bank on Thursday decided to keep the
key interest rate at a record low 1 percent. Analysts believe that among
the main reasons behind the central bank’s decision is the weak growth of
the Czech economy and a low risk of inflation.
Most experts do not expect the bank to lower the interest rates any further. They believe the rates will rise, with the only question being when it will happen. The Czech National Bank lowered the key interest rate to the historic low last December.
The Czech Republic’s Security Council has asked the health minister,
Dana Jurásková, to see if the authorities can only receive part of one
million swine flu vaccines they originally ordered. However, the minister
said on Thursday that the government would not change its vaccination
strategy, which involves distributing some 700,000 vaccines to the
seriously ill, health care workers and selected officials.
The minister told the daily Právo that the council agreed to negotiate with the vaccine’s producer, GlaxonSmithKline, at its session last week. As the contract between the pharmaceutical and the Czech state does not provide for such an option, an appendix to the contract would have to be negotiated, a spokesman for the ministry said.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout was released from a hospital in Prague on Thursday, two days after he was admitted for observation due to severe nausea. The ministry released no further details but said Mr Kohout would follow his programme as scheduled. This includes a session of the Czech government next week, and a trip to Lebanon and Syria the week after that.
The Ferdinand Peroutka Awards for outstanding journalism were handed out
in Prague on Thursday. Among this year’s recipients are economic
columnist for the weekly Respekt Jan Macháček, Petruška Šustrová from
the daily Lidové Noviny, and writer Pavel Kosatík.
The awards are named after Ferdinand Peroutka, one of the most significant figures of Czech journalism in the 20th century. He began his career in 1919 but left Czechsolovakia after the communist coup of 1948 and settled in New York.
Prison guards have prevented an Uzbek national from escaping from a Prague courthouse after the man attacked the men escorting him and tried to seize their guns. A spokeswoman for the court told reporters on Thursday that the man was one of four Uzbeks charged with murder. They had been previously planning a prison escape and the murder of a prison guard, she said.
Part of the Czech team for the Winter Olympic Games left Prague for Vancouver on Thursday. Among those in the group are acrobatic skier Nikola Sudová, who has recently been battling to get fit in time for the Olympics. Sudová, whose discipline is moguls, says she is going to Vancouver to compete, not just take part. The team’s cross country skiers, including medal hopeful Lukáš Bauer, are already in Canada training. The Czech Republic took four medals at the last Winter Olympics in Turin and Czech newspapers have been speculating that the country could well do better this time out.