On late Thursday evening, the Czech upper house voted to reject a key component of the government's fiscal consolidation package - a controversial rise in VAT tax rates from 15 to 21 percent. The opposition Social Democrats hold 41 seats in the 81 seat senate. Despite an in-person appeal by Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek urging the upper chamber to pass the plan, 50 out of 72 senators present voted "no" including one member of the leading coalition party, Civic Democrat senator Jaroslav Kubera. The assembled representatives were forced to vote twice after a technical glitch annulled the first attempt. In order to overturn the Senate's decision, the lower house will now have to find 101 votes in favour of the measure. The Social Democrats have opposed higher VAT rates on the grounds that they will harm the economy, which is currently in recession, with GDP contracting by 1.2 percent in the second quarter of 2012.
According to a report issued on Thursday by structural engineers examining the children’s section of Prague’s Motol hospital, the facility will not require evacuation to address structural concerns. The B wing of the hospital, built in 1964, was found to be unstable during ongoing reconstruction work after it was discovered that the building had moved by as much as ten centimetres in one month. Reconstruction efforts were halted as a result as experts moved in to assess the site. The children’s facility, which is one of Europe’s largest children’s hospitals, was opened last June after a major reconstruction which cost 4.4 billion crowns. 212 children are currently housed at neighbouring wings – the B wing, however, remains empty and in need of repair. Accumulations of sub-surface ground water are believed to be behind the instability. Experts will decide next week whether to resume reconstruction efforts.
Former Central Bohemian governor David Rath, currently remanded in prison on charges of corruption, faced new revelations on Thursday related to alleged misconduct. According to a report published by Hospodářské Noviny, Rath used public funds in his region to pay external advisers a total of 5.63 million crowns. Three advisers on the list are reportedly also reportedly involved in an alleged scheme to defraud hospitals via manipulated contracts for equipment – Rath is one of the accused in this case. According to the report, the three figures are Patrik Tomšů, spokesperson for Central Bohemia’s hospitals – paid 1.35 million and lawyers Jan Mach and Aleš Buriánek – paid around 1.3 million each and both also serving on the boards of several local hospitals. Mr. Rath, who was arrested in May on suspicion of taking bribes related to fraudulent activities, has denied any wrongdoing.
The sacked head of the Prague Public Transit Company, or DPP, which manages the city’s transport network, has accused politicians of trying to interfere in the way it is managed. Vladimír Lich was unexpectedly sacked from his post as chairman of the board of directors on Wednesday and made the comments in an interview with Mladá Front Dnes on Thursday. The DPP held an extraordinary General Meeting the same day to discuss the future of Lich, deciding to also strip him of his post as managing director. Lich was targeted after filing lawsuits targeting former tenders signed by the DPP, arguing that they may have been closed on unfavourable terms to the company. The board voted for Wednesday’s removal in an 8-15 decision with two Civic Democrats and five members of TOP09 as well as one independent member supporting the move. The Thursday sacking came via a 3-5 vote. The board’s members have denied there is a connection between Lich’s actions and the firing. Reacting to the dismissal, Prague’s mayor Bohuslav Sobotka described it as an attack on principles and pledged to try to reform the existing DPP board, replacing those who had voted in favour of removing Lich. Former manager Magdalena Češková has been named as Lich’s replacement.
Arnošt Herman, a 47-year-old Czech citizen wanted in the Czech Republic for fleeing the country before completing a prison sentence for extortion and violent assault has been apprehended in Ireland. Herman was sentenced to six years by a court in Hradec Králové in 2010; he was accused of belonging to an armed gang who loaned money to businesses before resorting to violent methods to secure repayments with exorbitant rates of interest between 2002 and 2008. After fleeing the country, the Czech Republic issued a European Arrest Warrant, seeking his extradition if apprehended by a fellow European nation. Herman was arrested on Monday in County Roscommon in the north of the Republic of Ireland, according to local police. His lawyer has reportedly applied for bail.
Czech cinema is to be celebrated in Israel from August 19 to September 8 via Czech Film Week. Screenings will take place across the country in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rosh Pina, Sderot and Holon. Both old classics such as “Loves of a Blonde” (1965) and “Closely Watched Trains” (1966) as well as newer films such as 2011’s “Long Live the Family” will be screened. The producer of the latter, Radim Procházka, will be in attendance at the festival. The event is co-sponsored by The Czech Center in Tel Aviv and the Czech Embassy.
Jiří Dienstbier, the Social Democratic candidate for the 2013 presidential elections, has expressed his support for new laws to permit gay couples to both enter into registered partnerships and adopt children in the Czech Republic. Discussing his position, Dienstbier stated that he believed that no institute could supplant an upbringing provided to a child by a stable couple. Recent opinion polls have Dientsbier achieving around 6% support while independent candidate Jan Fischer leads the pack with 34.5%, according to the Meridian agency.
Fuel prices have risen sharply in the last week with the most popular type, called “Natural 95”, increasing in average price by 58 halers to 37.40 crowns per litre. Other fuels such as diesel have also seen a similar trend. In Prague, prices have risen to as high as 38.2 crowns for “Natural 95”, while the Ústecký region has the lowest prices in the country, around two and a half crowns cheaper per litre. The rises reflect increasing crude oil prices on the global market – the Czech Republic has seen a consistent rise in fuel prices since mid-July and an overall trend of rising prices since January 2009.
The Czech Senate on Wednesday rejected a controversial church property restitution bill that would give the Catholic Church and other religious groups some 135 billion crowns worth of property, most of it as financial compensation, in return for possessions confiscated by the communist regime in the 1950s. The upper house, controlled by the opposition Social Democrats and Communists, rejected the bill with 43 votes out of 77 present. The opposition sees the legislation as unfair, and claims it would return more property than originally taken away. The bill will now return to the lower house; Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Wednesday expressed confidence that coalition MPs will find the 101 votes to overturn the Senate veto.
The Czech Helsinki Committee, an NGO focusing on human rights, has found that an eighth of Czech advertisements for job applications that it sampled were discriminatory. The organisation looked at ads placed on the popular jobs website prace.cz and found that many, thanks to the Czech linguistic way of adding genders to names – such as “asistent” for a man and “asistentka” for a woman – were directly excluding members of the opposite sex. The analysis also found numerous cases of age discrimination in ads. Additionally, the Committee also found that around five percent of ads for housing contained subtle mechanisms to exclude minorities or foreigners. In total, 12,000 advertisements were examined in the study.