Minister of Defence Alexandr Vondra on Wednesday announced the creation of
a new unit to oversee purchases following another scandal over arms
The daily Mladá fronta dnes on Wednesday described how it exposed a plot by a deputy minister at the Defence Ministry to take millions of crowns in kickbacks for a major arms order. The paper reported that it followed the minister, Jaroslav Kopřiva, for six months as he put together the deal with a lobbyist. They planned to frame an order for mortars as a joint purchase with the Slovak government, helping them bypass a public tender and winning it for the Finnish company Patria. The paper later presented its evidence to the Minister of Defence with Kopřiva being sacked on the spot.
Mr. Vondra said that the new unit would look into all completed, pending and ongoing purchases to check for any suspicious circumstances. First in line will be contracts involving third party intermediaries. He said contracts continued to be a weak point at the ministry when it could take advantage of rules allowing public tenders to be avoided.
The head of a police union has suggested on duty officers go easy on demonstrators during a nationwide protest against public sector wage cuts and savings. The head of the Union for Security Forces said officers should where possible only issue remands rather than impose fines or take tougher action. Police and fire fighters have called a demonstration for September 21. Health workers, teachers, off duty members of the armed services and other state employees are also expected to take part. The head of the union also suggested that police refrain from imposing fines for traffic offences that day.
President Václav Klaus has waded into the debate over cuts at the Foreign Ministry. Addressing Czech ambassadors on Wednesday, the President questioned the need for some European embassies. He said that he did not see the need for having embassies in many smaller EU states saying that such countries were not really foreign territory as such. With this in mind, he cautioned against proceeding headlong with cuts. So far the Foreign Ministry has announced the closure of embassies in the Congo, Venezuela, Kenya, Yemen and Costa Rica as part of the government’s overall cost cutting drive.
Heavy overnight rain in northern Moravia and Silesia led to flood alerts being declared along many rivers late on Tuesday. Fire fighters were called out on around 160 incidents. By Wednesday morning the worst affected locality was on the Olše river at Český Těšín where a level three flood warning applied until the early afternoon. The local crisis committee has convened there but evacuations have so far been avoided. The national weather office predicts that most heavy rainfall should die out during the day but there could still be heavy falls on the Beskydy mountains.
The Ministry of Finance has tabled its budget proposal for 2011 with an extra 127.7 billion crown provision to cover the flood damages at the start of August. The planed budget deficit of 135 billion crowns has been retained with both spending and income boosted by the allotted amount. After much haggling, the Czech government has agreed in principle that a special flood tax will be levied next year as a one off measure only. The ministry’s budget proposal, which still has to be approved by the government and lower house of parliament, counts on expected economic growth of 2.3 percent next year.
Initial figures from the police suggest 168 people died on Czech roads during the summer holidays which have just ended. That is 18 more victims than during the same period last year which was a relatively good one for road safety. In most years the death toll has rarely descended below 200. Experts are still trying to figure out the reasons why there was such an exceptionally high 104 number of deaths in July.
The 33-year-old Czech who was injured in Monday’s shooting spree in Bratislava remained in a serious but stable condition on Wednesday according to hospital authorities. The man from the eastern city of Ostrava remained in induced sleep although two other seriously wounded victims have been brought out of it. He was one of 15 people when a man armed with an assault rifle went on a rampage in the Slovak capital, killing six members of a Roma family and two others who happened to cross his path. The shooter, who committed suicide after the attack, is reported to have had frequent disputes with the local Roma community.
The number of ecological farms has risen this year by around 30 percent to around 3,500, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The number of bio food producers has also climbed by around a third to reach 643, it added in a report on the sector. The ministry estimates that ecological farms now account for 10 percent of cultivated land with producers accounting for 1.0 percent of consumer food. Those percentages could rise to 15 percent and five percent over the next five years, the ministry predicts.
Czech player Radek Štěpánek has been an early casualty in the tennis’US Open. Štěpánek, who is struggling to find his best form this year, went down 4:6, 2:6, 6:4, 4:6 to Frenchman Julien Benneteau in the first round. Top seeded Czech, Tomáš Berdych takes to the court on Wednesday where he faces another Frenchman, Michael Llodrou. Wimbledon finalist Berdych is seeded seventh.