The Ministry of Finance expects growth in GDP of 2.5% in 2011, deputy finance minister Bohdan Hejduk told Czech Television on Sunday. The last prognosis for 2011, from April of this year, anticipated growth of 2.4%. The emerging coalition government wants to decrease the budget deficit to less than 3% of the gross domestic product by 2012 and balance public finances by 2016. Mr Hejduk said that the structural budget deficit would be better dealt with by restricting public expenses than by increasing taxes, but admitted that that method could slow the growth of the economy.
Incoming finance minister Miroslav Kalousek says that cuts to social benefits could save the state 11 billion crowns in 2011. Speaking on the same programme on Czech Television, the deputy TOP 09 chairman said that systemic modifications that the coalition wants to make to health and social benefits over the coming years could double that amount. One of those cuts involves childbirth allowances, which the coalition will likely attempt to limit to the first child of parents with income of less than 2.4 times the subsistence minimum. Mr Kalousek said it was absurd that even the wealthiest Czechs currently have the right to social allowances when a child is born to them. He also said that he wants to cancel the State Fund for Housing Development and the State Fund for Transport Infrastructure, which he called an ulcer on the state’s economic management.
The candidate for Minister of Culture, Jiří Besser of TOP 09, said Sunday that he would agree to across-the-board budget cuts that would apply to his portfolio. He also said that he would be able to find finances within the ministry and its institutions with the help of the finance minister. Speaking to Czech Television, Mr Besser said that the whole country cannot avoid budget cuts, and that the coalition was discussing ways to provide income for culture, including importing foreign work, exporting Czech work and preparing orderly grant systems. At the same time, he says he would like to strengthen the role of the Ministry of Culture.
Transport minister-to-be and Public Affairs grey eminence Vít Bárta told the daily Právo on Sunday that the multi-billion crown detective company ABL, which he recently sold to his brother, would not be vying for a large public order to produce electronic bracelets for persons under house arrest. The statement is an attempt to defuse the somewhat controversial words of his brother, who said Friday that the company would be interested in competing in such a tender. Mr Bárta’s company and its participation in state tenders has been a focus of debate during coalition negotiations, particularly as his party successfully sought the interior ministry portfolio in order to fight corruption.
Fire-fighters are dealing with an ammonia leak at a power plant in western Bohemia. The leak began early Sunday morning due to a technical malfunction in one of the tanks, and has so far released an estimated two out of 29 tonnes of hazardous ammonia gas from the Sokolovská uhelná plant in Vřesová, near Karlovy Vary. The gas has not breached the grounds of the plant and residents are not currently at risk. This is the second such accident to occur at Sokolovská uhelná in recent years; in 2007 a pressurised tank exploded while being repaired, though less ammonia was released.
Rail service in the Moravian town of Olomouc is gradually reopening on Sunday afternoon after a locomotive collided with a cargo train that was leaving the station. No one was injured in the accident, which left eight wagons and the single locomotive derailed. Railway inspectors are working to determine whether the collision was caused by the engineer or by a technical malfunction. One track is now open at the station, with speeds limited to 10 km/h. Long-distance routes are diverted in a number of areas in Moravia and some connections are delayed by up to 60 minutes. The total damage to the rail infrastructure and vehicles has been estimated at five million crowns.
Summer holidays have had a grim start for drivers and for swimmers. Seven people drowned at the weekend in various parts of the country. Three men lost their lives in South Bohemia, two in the region of Ústí nad Labem, one near Olomouc in Moravia and another in the Slapy reservoir near Prague. The youngest of them was ten years old. Statistics show roughly 300 deaths by drowning annually in the Czech Republic. Rescuers say that many of these could be prevented if people better heeded safety rules.
Road accidents also took a grave toll at the weekend, with 17 deaths between Friday and Sunday. That number is one of the highest for the first weekend of summer holidays since 2001, when 21 people lost their lives. Friday saw more road deaths than any day since the beginning of the year, with eight people killed. Six of those deaths occurred in Central Bohemia, where rescue services in said they were called out to 20 accidents on that day alone. The end of the school year, the last day of which was Wednesday, and the beginning of summer holidays tends to bring with it increased rates of road accidents.
Czech tennis player Tomáš Berdych lost the men’s singles final at Wimbledon on Sunday to world number one Rafael Nadal 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. It was the first time a Czech player has reached the grass court championship since Ivan Lendl did so twice in 1986 and ’87. The 24-year-old Czech and 12th seed nonetheless exceeded expectations in the tournament, first defeating six-time champion Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and number three ranked Novak Djokovic in the semis. Despite the defeat, Berdych still moves up the ladder to eighth place on Monday. The last Czech Wimbledon champion was Jan Kodeš in 1973.
Incoming foreign minister and TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg has expressed regret that the Ministry of the Environment is to be run by the Civic Democratic party in the new coalition government. In an interview for the daily Lidové Noviny Mr Schwarzenberg said that he had the impression that the ministry would be a mere husk, run by representatives of the energy giant ČEZ. The new environmental minister is to be Civic Democrat Pavel Drobil, who has no experience working in ecological issues. Mr Schwarzenberg said that his party’s pick for the post had been ecology professor and senator Bedřich Moldan, but that the Civic Democrats had rejected him because they did not want a responsible ministry. The Czech Republic, he said, is “simply the property of ČEZ”.