The Green Party will not withdraw its ministers from the caretaker cabinet, despite having serious reservations about the government’s long-term convergence plan approved on Monday, party leader Ondřej Liška told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Wednesday. The party strongly opposes plans to extend the Temelín nuclear power plant and further develop the coal-fueled Pruneřov thermal power plant in north Bohemia on the grounds that the projects will generate new jobs. Mr. Liška said the prime minister had assured him that both projects would be preceded by extensive environmental impact studies. The Greens nominated two ministers to the caretaker cabinet: Environment Minister Jan Dusík and Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb.
The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday approved the government’s anti-corruption package in its first reading, although deputies made clear their intention to push for amendments when it next comes on the agenda. The bill envisages the use of agent provocateurs and the institution of crown witness. In addition, the package should also introduce a more liberal policy on wire-tapping, adding new crimes to the list of those where wire-tapping is legally permissible. The latter point evoked heated controversy in the lower house with Civic Democrat deputies describing it as a step back. Prime Minister Jan Fischer’s government has declared the fight against corruption one of its top priorities and had hoped to see the bill approved before May’s general elections.
More than two dozen employees of the energy giant ČEZ have been charged with extortion. The police have accused 26 members of the company’s “anti-theft unit” of using extortion tactics against energy consumers in 48 cases. The state-owned power company has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks over its methods of dealing with debtors. Graphic video footage depicting the paramilitary-style training of the company’s anti theft unit was leaked to the media, as was a video showing a man, suspected of stealing electricity, allegedly having committed suicide. ČEZ has admitted that the anti-theft squad had made “mistakes” in the past. However, a company spokesman said the squad needed proper training as they often deal with criminal gangs stealing electricity.
The police is investigating an artist who set up a fictitious web-page offering babies for rent. Jana Štepánová who set up the rent-a-baby.cz web site said she was only trying to draw attention to problematic child adoptions. The police started investigating the case after the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs filed charges of child-trafficking against her. If found guilty she would face up to five years in prison. Mz Štepánová says the charges are ridiculous since the page is obviously intended as a provocation, but the ministry claims it looks far too realistic.
Young doctors getting residency training at clinics and hospitals complain about a lack of supervision, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes wrote on Wednesday. The paper cited inexperienced young doctors saying that due to a staff shortage they were often left to make important decisions on their own and were concerned that a wrong diagnosis could put patients at serious risk. The Health Ministry has admitted that this is a problem and that the number of patients suing hospitals over malpractice has increased in recent years. The problem is said to be most serious in surgeries and emergency wards.
The family of a mentally retarded young woman who died in a netted bed in a Prague psychiatric hospital is demanding an apology for the way in which she was treated by the staff. Her family told the court that she was barely ever let out of the netted bed, kept sedated for practical reasons and had repeatedly been found naked and struggling to get out. The woman died in 2006 after chocking on her own feces. At the family’s request the cause of her death was investigated by police, but the case was shelved for lack of evidence that it had been caused by negligence. The family is now demanding an official apology which the hospital management has so far refused to give.
According to figures released by the Health Ministry 98 people have succumbed to swine flu or related complications in the Czech Republic to date. The H1N1 virus was confirmed in 2,400 cases, but the actual number of people who have had the swine flu is believed to be much higher since only seriously ill patients get tested. As in other countries, there is a marked lack of interest in getting the flu shot due to a fear of possible side effects, which has left the authorities with large quantities of unwanted vaccinations on stock. The Health Ministry has said it will try to renegotiate contracts on as yet undelivered supplies of the vaccine. Even so, three quarters of the available supplies remain in storage.
Justice Minister Daniela Kovářová has urged creditors to give debtors one last warning before sending in a bailiff. In an interview for Hospodářské Noviny the minister said that debtors were often unaware of the gravity of their situation and often had property confiscated because of relatively small sums of money such as unpaid fines dating back several months or years. She said a final warning would not only give them a chance to raise the money quickly but would save them having to pay extra expenditures linked to a bailiff’s visit. The move would necessitate a change of legislation, but the minister has urged creditors to introduce it right away on ethical grounds. Critics of the move say that a last-minute warning would only give chronic defaulters a chance to hide their property in time.
The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Wednesday that President Václav Klaus was considering returning to the Civic Democratic Party, which he founded in 1991, if it were to suffer a defeat in May’s general elections. Citing people close to the president, the paper said his return would hinge on the resignation of the current party leadership, with which Mr. Klaus has long fought an ideological battle. He left the post of honorary chairman in 2008, saying that the party was becoming more based on lobbying interests than ideas. It is not clear if the president would consider returning to the post of honorary chairman or take a more active role in party politics when his second term in office ends. The Office of the President has not commented on the story.
The Czech authorities are opening up a consulate office in Vancouver for the duration of the winter Olympics. According to the CTK news agency the temporary consulate will be staffed by employees from the Czech embassy in Ottawa. They will be of assistance to Czech nationals who may run into difficulties and require assistance in replacing lost passports, reporting thefts or getting emergency medical care. Although Czechs traveling to Canada need a visa, this has not dampened people’s enthusiasm to see the games in person. The Canadian embassy in Prague says it is receiving on average 15 visa applications a day.