The new Health Minister, Jozef Kubinyi, has said that the problems of the country's national health insurer, the General Health Insurance Company, or VZP, and its head, Jirina Musilkova, should be discussed by the lower house of parliament. Shortly after taking office two weeks ago, Minister Kubinyi said that the VZP was "ineffective" and mismanaged its funds and that Ms Musilkova could not handle her post and should resign. Minister Kubinyi said the law does not allow him to propose that Ms Musilkova be recalled from her post.
President Vaclav Klaus has granted pardon to a former gambling addict convicted of committing fraud nine years ago. According to the presidential office, Jiri Hladky paid the damages in full in the time set by the court and has lived a law-abiding life for five years. President Klaus has granted pardons to 17 people since taking office last year in March. His predecessor, Vaclav Havel, was often criticised for dispensing too many pardons and sometimes to controversial figures. Mr Klaus said shortly after his election last year that he would only grant pardons in exceptional cases.
The Information Technology Minister, Vladimir Mlynar, has asked the anti-monopoly office to examine Wednesday's replacement of two executives of the mobile operator Eurotel and a subsequent personnel link with the management of Eurotel's parent company, Cesky Telecom. Mr Mlynar said he wants to know whether or not the change runs counter to the terms under which the anti-monopoly office approved the merger of the two telecommunications companies last year. On Wednesday, the executive board of Cesky Telecom dismissed Eurotel's CEO, Terrence Valeski, along with the head of the legal division, Lubos Borik, and replaced them with executives from Cesky Telecom.
The Czech government has given the nod for the Interior Ministry to prepare legislation that would legalise prostitution while bringing it under regulation of the state. Under the bill prostitutes would pay taxes for plying their trade and would be required to take monthly medical check-ups. Licences to prostitutes would be issued by offices in authorised municipalities to both Czech and foreigner sex workers over the age of eighteen. Professional facilities, meanwhile, offering sex would also have to pay a set annual fee, early estimates say, of 200, 000 crowns. The sex trade is widespread in the Czech Republic: some reports have as many as 25, 000 individuals currently working as prostitutes throughout the country, roughly half of those foreign nationals.
The Czech government has approved the sale of the petrochemical group Unipetrol to be sold to Poland's PKN Orlen; the announcement was made by Finance Ministry spokesman Marek Zeman on Wednesday. PKN, the only short-listed bidder to actually go ahead with its bid: more than 13 billion crowns for the government's 63 per cent majority in the group. Unipetrol is made up of top Czech fuels dealer Benzina, the Chemopetrol refinery, rubber manufacturer Kaucuk, oil processor Ceska rafinerska, oil producer Paramo, and the Spolana chemical company.
The Czech Business Inspectorate has begun taking action against touts selling tickets to the World Ice Hockey Championships in Prague and Ostrava. Selling tickets at inflated prices is in breach of the law on consumer protection. The Business Inspectorate and the police uncovered several cases of tickets being sold at more than face value outside Prague's Sazka Arena on Tuesday. Punishments range from spot fines of 5,000 crowns for minor infringements to fines of up to a million crowns in cases of large-scale organised touting.
While food prices are like to rise after the Czech Republic joins the European Union on Saturday, the increases will be slight and gradual, the minister of agriculture, Jaroslav Palas, said on Tuesday. The minister said there were large differences in food prices among existing EU states, and that prices reflected citizens' purchasing power.
Meanwhile, a draw has been held by the State Electoral Commission to determine ballot sheet numbers for the parties registered to take part in the Czech Republic's first ever elections to the European Parliament in June. The Social Democrats number on ballots will be four, while the Civic Democrats drew six. Fugitive businessman Viktor Kozeny - who recently founded the Civic Federal Democrats - said on Tuesday it was strange that the two main parties had received such low numbers, whereas those who threatened what he called the political oligarchy came at the bottom of the list.
The aristocrat Franz Ulrich Kinsky has failed in a bid to gain ownership of the Kinsky Palace, one of the most impressive buildings on Prague's Old Town Square. On Tuesday a Prague court ruled that the palace, which houses part of the Czech National Gallery, belongs to the state. Mr Kinsky, a descendant of the Kinsky noble family, has filed over 150 lawsuits seeking the restitution of property he says belongs to him. Most of the property was confiscated after 1945 from Mr Kinsky's late father, an alleged Nazi sympathiser who died before the war.