A Czech soldier serving on the provincial reconstruction team in Logar, Afghanistan suffered light injuries in an ammunition explosion. The incident happened on Tuesday morning at a training site near the Shank military base. A spokeswoman for the general chief of staff said the soldier was injured on the leg by flying shrapnel and was treated at the military base nearby. He is to be transported to the military hospital in Kabul.
The lower house of the Czech Parliament on Tuesday approved the first stage of the government’s health care reform. The legislation will introduce standard health care covered by public insurance and above-standard care people will pay for extra. The bills will also increase fees for hospital stays and visits to the doctor. The ruling coalition, with 115 seats in the 200-member lower house, decided to push ahead with the reform despite protests by the country’s labour unions and employers.
The opposition Social Democrats and the Communist Party have said they will take the health bill to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it violates people’s right to health care on the grounds of insurance and will result in the socially weaker groups of the population getting cheaper, less suitable and less effective treatment. It has not yet been decided who would be the arbiter of what constitutes basic and above standard care.
The lower house on Tuesday also approved the government’s pension reform, overturning a veto by the left-dominated Senate. The bill envisages a gradual increase in the retirement age and will be advantageous for people with higher salaries. The changes will affect women born after 1955 and men born after 1965. The retirement age for men and women will be unified in 2041. People now in their 40s will retire at age 66, children born in this decade will work until age 71 and those born next year will not be able to retire before the age of 73.
The opposition Social Democrats say they want to outline an alternate pension reform based on a broad debate with the public. The party says the main aim will be to stabilize the present pension system, launch a broad debate on what the retirement age should be and focus on a transformation of the present pension funds rather than the creation of new ones.
Czech judges are increasingly complaining that their independence is being undermined by politicians across the political spectre through the Justice Ministry, which is responsible for the administration of the judiciary. This set-up was sharply criticized at a recent judiciary conference, but the calls for total independence –including control of their own administration – were rejected by Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil who strongly denied allegations that his ministry in any way interfered with the decision making of independent judges. All political parties in Parliament are in favour of preserving the status quo.
Czech Railways has announced that Petr Fejk is leaving the post of ombudsman and the position itself is to be scrapped. A storm of controversy broke out over the need for a railway ombudsman after it emerged that Mr. Fejk was getting paid over a quarter of a million crowns a month for dealing with passengers’ complaints. Prime minister Petr Nečas said on learning the news that he would look into the matter and it has now been announced that the salaries and bonuses of all mangers at Czech Railways would be scrutinized.
In a supplement called doing business in the Czech Republic Britain’s Financial Times says the country’s open economy is profiting from neighbouring Germany and has returned to growth after a severe recession in 2009. However it says the Czech Republic’s weak institutions and constant corruption scandals are severely undermining the country’s economic potential. The paper cites Weston Stacey, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic, who says the corruption issue is less critical in the private sector but investors who have to deal with the public sector face a lot of problems.
A thirty-two-year-old man has been served a six-year jail sentence for brutally beating a toddler. The man admitted to having repeatedly hit his girlfriend’s child, whom he was babysitting because it wouldn’t stop crying. A hard slap across the face reportedly sent the toddler flying onto the bedpost where it suffered welts and bruises. The man said he had lost control and failed to realize the damage he could inflict.