The police have accused the country’s chief hygiene officer Michael Vit of abuse of public office and breach of trust over alleged manipulation of contract procurement for the Interior Ministry. According to the police, Vit manipulated a tender for consultancy services for the ministry. He allegedly placed the procurement with the husband of his subordinate at the Health Ministry. Vladan Broz, from Transparency International who filed a criminal complaint against Vit, said the tender documents were manipulated. Michael Vit has rejected the accusations. If his guilt is proven he could face up to ten years in prison.
Welfare benefits will be three billion crowns lower than originally planned due to budget cuts being considered by the coalition government. Labour Minister Jaromír Drábek told journalists on Tuesday that the three billion could be saved by strict checks on whether all necessary conditions for benefits were being met, and by preventing unemployment benefits from being misused. With the ministry looking to cut a total 3.8 billion crowns from its budget this year, Mr Drábek also said he plans to lower operational costs and money earmarked for IT. The government is planning further austerity measures in order to adhere to the planned state budget deficit amid a worsening economic forecast.
In related news, the news website Lidovky.cz has revealed that Labour Minister Drábek has given more bonuses to his employees than any other minister, with one deputy rewarded with over one million crowns. In an interview with the site, Mr Drábek said he was an advocate of adequate remuneration. At least seven of the bonuses exceeded 100,000 crowns, with one post-bonus package amounting to 187,000 per month, or more than the salary of the prime minister. Drábek said he stood by the bonuses, emphasising that his ministry implemented fundamental reforms last year and saved the state nearly a billion crowns.
Outgoing deputy chair of the Constitutional Court Eliška Wagnerová has harshly criticised government reforms as insane and socially insensitive. In an interview for the daily Právo Judge Wagnerová went on to say that she did not want to live in such a country. Prime Minister Petr Nečas responded to the comments severely, saying the judge’s last day on March 21 would be a holiday for Czech democracy, adding that the Constitutional Court is not meant to be another chamber of Parliament. The Constitutional Court is currently adjudicating on some of the government’s reform laws at the behest of the opposition Social Democratic Party.
The detective agency ABL, which has been linked to the troubled Public Affairs party, has changed its name to Mark2 Corporation. The move comes a few days after the company featured prominently in the corruption trial of its founder, Public Affairs leader Vít Bárta. Mr Bárta sold the company to his brother Matěj upon the party’s election to Parliament in 2010. The website Lidovky.cz reports that Matěj Bárta has stepped down, informing employees that he will now head the company’s supervisory board. In addition to drawing negative attention for numerous personnel connections with the junior coalition party, ABL also came under fire last year for conducting surveillance of certain Prague politicians.
The number of births in the Czech Republic decreased in 2011 while the number of deaths remained the same, leading statisticians to speak of a gradual dying out of the native population. Compared to the census results of 2010, the population of the Czech Republic shrank last year by roughly 30,000. The comparison also marks a definitive end of the baby boom of the last decade, which peaked in 2008. Last year´s decline in the number of newborn children was markedly higher than in the previous two years together. Immigration, mostly from Slovakia, Russia and Ukraine, made up 90 percent of the overall population growth in 2011.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg met with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, in Prague on Tuesday. The two discussed the situation in Syria, with the Jordanian minister demanding the violence be stopped and humanitarian aid provided the citizens. Mr Schwarzenberg holds the position that Syrians should be protected from the regime, but the international community should not enter the conflict militarily. Mr Schwarzenberg also praised reform measures that the Jordanian government is undertaking, while Mr Judeh mentioned the importance of the late president Václav Havel. Nasser Judeh is also set to meet with President Klaus on Tuesday .
Bratislava has overtaken Prague as the richest region of the post-Soviet EU countries. According to the latest statistics from Brussels, Bratislava rose four places in 2009 to fifth place on the EU-wide list, while Prague dropped to seventh place. Eurostat shows central London as being by far the most wealthy region of the EU, with per capita GDP of 332% of the EU average. The poorest regions were in the Balkans and in Poland.
A majority of Czechs have confidence in the country’s high court institutions, according to a poll by the STEM agency. The Supreme Court enjoys the highest trust, at 64%, followed closely by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. The results nonetheless mark a significant fall of about 10 points from 2005. Meanwhile previous surveys by STEM have suggested that only about a third of people in the Czech Republic trust the objectivity of judges in general, and a majority have indicated they are unsatisfied with the performance of lower-instance courts.
Opposition Social Democrats have proposed a bill to restrict presidential pardons. Responding to a series of questionable pardons in recent months, the proposed constitutional amendment requires that the president receive the countersignature of the prime minister or other cabinet member in order to mitigate a punishment. The bill will now be reviewed by the government. The Social Democrats made an unsuccessful push for such countersignatures in the amendment on direct presidential elections. The party has asked the president’s office for explanations of a number of controversial pardons, particularly regarding two recent ones that are being investigated by the police.