Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek has announced his decision to resign from his post in connection with the bribery scandal surrounding two of his closest associates - his deputy Vladimir Šiška and the head of IT Milan Hojer. At a press briefing in Prague on Wednesday minister Drábek said he did not feel guilty in any way but was ready to accept personal responsibility for this development in order not to damage his party TOP 09 further ahead of the regional and senate elections. The labour minister reiterated his firm belief in his deputy’s innocence but said he was not in a position to wait for Mr. Šiska to clear his name in court. The minister will leave his post at the end of the month.
A Prague court has ruled that Deputy Labour Minister Vladimir Šiška who was arrested and charged with bribery on Monday be remanded in custody for fear of influencing witnesses. The head of IT at the ministry Milan Hojer who was likewise arrested and charged on suspicion of having proffered a bribe and manipulated a public tender has been released. The police have not disclosed any details on the case.
The cabinet is planning to take effective action against unlicensed production and sale of spirits. The prime minister has given experts from the justice, health, industry and finance ministries a fortnight in which to produce new licensing regulations and control mechanisms which would enable the authorities to crack down on bootleg producers. The move comes in the wake of a serious outbreak of methanol-related deaths from bootleg liquor, which estimates say makes up 20 percent of the spirits market. The government is also planning to step up the fight against alcohol abuse by minors.
The Dukovany power plant in Moravia which recently came under fire for the type of fuel used, will remain in operation, EURATOM agency officials confirmed on Wednesday. The Czech Republic had come under pressure from some EU member states to close down the power station because it was operating on fuel made of uranium enriched outside of the EU, namely in Russia. This runs against a European agreement signed in Corfu in 1994. EURATOM said Wednesday that although it was looking into the matter of other potential suppliers the plant was in no danger of being closed down and if no alternate supplier is found then the matter would be closed. CEZ argues that the contract on fuel deliveries with the Russian supplier Tvel was closed before the country’s admission to the EU and accepted by the EU authorities.
The Czech Republic is planning to more than double its quota in the IMF, a move that should strengthen its position in the organization. Currently the country’s quota amounts to 1,002 billion Special Drawing Rights. The Finance Ministry’s proposal, approved by the government on Wednesday, envisages an increase to 2,180 billion Special Drawing Rights. A member country's quota determines its maximum financial commitment to the IMF, its voting power, and has a bearing on its access to IMF finances.
The Confederation of Czech and Moravian Trade Unions has called on the public not to give their vote to the ruling parties in the upcoming regional and senate elections. Trade Union leader Jaroslav Zavadil who has been increasingly critical of the centre-right government, said the centre right coalition was negatively impacting developments in the regions and any votes given to them would only serve to make matters worse. Trade unions predict a 2.0 to 2.5 percent inflation next year and have said they will strive for a respective minimal growth in wages.
The six Civic Democrat deputies who are vehemently opposed to the government proposed VAT hike for 2013 say they will torpedo the government’s austerity package for next year if a compromise solution is not found. A series of negotiations with the Civic Democrat leadership has not brought the two sides any closer to agreement. The respective bill is crucial for next year’s state budget and the prime minister has linked it to a vote of confidence in his government. Civic Democrats opposed in principle to tax hikes claim that the money should be found by cost-cutting measures and through privatization, but this solution has been criticized in view of time-pressure.
MEP Zuzana Roithová from the Christian Democrats has officially entered the presidential race by collecting signatures from 50,000 supporters. Her rivals for the post are former prime minister Jan Fischer, another former head of cabinet Miloš Zeman, former MEP Jana Bobošíková,Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg head of the ruling TOP 09 party, Social Democrat Senator Jiří Dienstbier and deputy speaker of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka of the Civic Democrats. The country’s first direct presidential elections are set for January 11th -12th. Polls suggest that the two hot favourites for a second round are Jan Fischer and Miloš Zeman.
Moravian farmers will demand compensation from the state for damages caused by this year’s drought, according to the head of the Moravian Agrarian Chamber Václav Hlaváček. Mr. Hlaváček told reporters on Wednesday that in Moravia the 2012 grain harvest was 65 percent smaller than last year’s due to the long months of drought which could have disastrous consequences for local farmers. He said farmers would request compensation to the tune of 750 million crowns. The situation in the Czech lands is slightly better although farmers say the harvest will be one of the worst in decades.
Prague’s Ruzyně Airport will be officially renamed to Václav Havel Airport Prague on Friday, on the anniversary of the late ex-president’s birthday. A special ceremony at the airport will also see the unveiling of an exhibition of Václav Havel photographs taken by CTK news agency photographers. A parallel photo exhibition is to open in London. The Czech Centre in New York will mark the occasion with a newly published English language collection of Vaclav Havel’s plays. Václav Havel died last December at the age of 75.