The police has launched an investigation into the purchase of armoured personnel carriers for the Czech army on suspicion of corruption. The daily Mladá fronta Dnes alleged this week that Czech political parties received bribes in connection with the deal to buy 107 APCs from the Austrian firm Steyr. The contract was worth 14.4 billion Czech crowns or over 750 million US dollars, and the daily said two to three percent of that amount had allegedly gone to Czech politicians in kickbacks. However, representatives of the two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats, have denied any wrongdoing. The Austrian police has already launched an investigation into the sale.
Local governments are protesting against a bill which would allow the country’s Supreme Audit Office to look into their financing. The bill, which Parliament recently approved in its first reading, was drafted by the two strongest political parties as a key tool in combating widespread corruption. Local governments have attacked the proposed change on the argument that a lower-level control mechanism is already in place and that giving the same powers to the Supreme Audit Office would only double the amount of bureaucracy for local administrations. For the present time the work of the Supreme Audit Office is largely restricted to auditing state financing.
The Health Ministry wants to make the swine flu vaccine accessible to all citizens, including children over the age of three, free of charge. Health Minister Dana Jurásková is planning to put the proposal to the government and National Security Council on Monday. The vaccines would be available at vaccination centres around the country and everyone would be eligible to get the shot. Pregnant women and children would be encouraged to consult the matter with their doctors. The Czech health authorities have been left with large stocks of the vaccine after the vast majority of those eligible to get it refused the offer for fear of possible side-effects.
The Industry and Trade Ministry will push for a change of legislation that would make electricity theft a criminal offense, a ministry spokesman said on Friday. The announcement follows controversy over the way in which energy giant CEZ dealt with clients it suspected of theft and the fact that its anti-theft unit got paramilitary-style training to deal with offenders. After twenty-six members of this special unit were charged with extortion CEZ promised to discontinue the practice and use exclusively legal means to protect itself from theft in the future.
The chairman of the lower house, Miloslav Vlček, has called a special session of Parliament for next week in an effort to get controversial social spending issues back on its agenda. The move comes after the lower house was deadlocked by hours of filibustering and right-wing politicians refused to vote on bills which would increase the precariously high state deficit. The centre-right Civic Democrats even proposed that the Chamber of Deputies should avoid any controversial issues and not make any crucial decisions until May’s general elections. However the party recently softened its stand on maternity benefits, saying that if there was overwhelming support for the proposal to maintain maternity benefits at last year’s level it would not block the bill. The level of maternity benefits became an issue of contention after caretaker finance minister Eduard Janota proposed their reduction within widespread cost-cutting measures.
A high degree air pollution alert in Moravia and Silesia was called off on
Friday morning after the smog situation improved overnight. People in these
areas were warned to remain indoors and keep their windows closed on
Thursday after nitrogen dioxide and dust levels soared high above
thresholds set by the WHO. Pollution levels dropped overnight though in the
worst affected areas around Ostrava and Karvina the amount of pollutants is
still four times higher than permitted.
Air pollution has long been a serious problem in the eastern part of the country, despite sustained efforts to improve the situation. People living in the area are more prone to allergies and asthma and medical statistics show that a higher number of people also suffer from chest infections and heart problems.
The Brno police has defended the use of force in dispersing a crowd of far-right protesters outside the Supreme Administrative Court on Wednesday. The police took action against several dozen supporters of the far-right Workers’ Party who turned up to protest against the court’s decision to ban the party on the grounds that it spreads xenophobia and racial hatred. A police spokesman said the protesters had repeatedly ignored orders to disperse and in view of the fact that they were violating the law the police had no option but to use force. He stressed that no one had been injured in the operation and there had been no damage of property. The police action was criticized by the Human Rights League on the grounds that the party’s supporters were entitled to show their discontent with the court’s decision.
A poll conducted by the CVVM agency suggests that if general elections
were held today the Social Democrats would have a strong lead with 33
percent of the vote. The Civic Democrats would get 20 percent, followed by
the Communist Party with 14 percent and TOP 09 with 12 percent of the vote.
Three other parties stand a chance of crossing the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in Parliament – Public Affairs, the Greens and Christian Democrats who would win 5 to 6 percent of the vote each.
The sale of organic food products is reported to have slowed last year, after years of promising growth for the industry. The slow-down is being attributed to tightened family budgets as a result of the economic crisis. Organic food products are 140 percent more expensive in the Czech Republic than regular brands. According to the organic food agency Green Marketing, 2008 showed a 40 percent growth in organic food consumption, which in 2009 dropped to 5 percent. The agency Organic Monitor says there has been a slow-down in the sale of organic food products across Europe.
The Czech Defense Ministry is seeking to acquire a Czechoslovak-made veteran LTP 38 tank from Peru for Prague’s Technical Museum. Negotiations are underway with the town of Mollendo which currently owns the tank, presumably the last one of several dozen that were made on commission for Peru in 1938. Thanks to their Scania motor and fine-tuning the tanks were suitable for use in mountainous terrain. The Czech Defense Ministry is prepared to pay the town 50,000 US dollars for the veteran.