The Public Affairs Party has overwhelmingly elected Vit Barta its new leader. Mr. Barta, a former businessman who set up the party in 2001 and who was long considered its de-facto leader, was elected on the strength of 80 out of 98 votes. He said he was ready to take up the party banner with dedication and humility and to fulfill those goals which Public Affairs had failed to meet during its time in government. The party walked out of the ruling coalition last spring following a corruption scandal involving Mr. Barta and ideological differences with its coalition partners. Its intention was to bring down the centre-right government but a small faction around Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake rebelled and stayed on under a different name.
Public Affairs outgoing leader Radek John, who did not run for re-election or aspire for a deputy post, was elected honorary chairman, getting a standing ovation from the assembly. Mr. John, a former investigative journalist whose popularity helped the party win seats in Parliament in the 2010 general elections, is returning to his former profession. In a closing address, Mr. John said the battle against corruption in the top echelons of power had proven harder than expected and advocated a radical change of the political system under which MPs, governors and mayors would be elected directly and would be re-callable.
The national vehicle registration system which was put into operation last summer and has repeatedly been criticized for malfunction, is facing another serious hurdle: the contract with its current operator is due to expire at the end of March and the Transport Ministry reportedly omitted to call a public tender for a new operator. According to the internet news site idnes.cz an operator will now have to be found within 30 days, moreover without a tender. Even after more than six months in operation the new vehicle registration system is said to be slower and less reliable than the one it replaced. The transport minister resigned in connection with the problems late last year.
Doctors have issued public warnings regarding the danger of buying medicines over the Internet. According to Czech Public Television some people are now using internet sites to acquire antibiotics, anti-depressants and even hormone therapy which are otherwise only available on prescription. Doctors warn that self-treatment with these medicines may be life-threatening. Many do not contain the substance stated on the packaging and some are past their expiry date.
German shops close to the Czech border are increasingly employing Czech-speaking staff to accommodate a growing Czech clientele, the internet news site idnes reported. The daily visited the town of Heidenau, Lower Saxony, where approximately 10 percent of the local clientele are Czechs from across the border. According to local businesses employing some Czech-speaking staff pays off. Their Czech clients spend on average 200 euro per visit and most come every weekend. Many shops in the border region now print leaflets in Czech as well as in German.
Air pollution is reported to have worsened severely in parts of Moravia and Silesia with the concentration of dust particles in the air far exceeding permitted norms at all 15 monitoring stations. According to data from the Czech Hydro-meteorological Institute the concentration of harmful substances in the air is more than four times the permitted norm in the Ostrava and Zlin regions. The authorities have advised elderly people and children to stay indoors as much as possible. The situation is being closely monitored by city hall which has the right to call a smog alert and ask industrial plants to scale-down production.
Fresh snow and icy roads are complicating traffic around the country. Police report a heightened number of accidents in Prague and traffic is reported to be slow and difficult along the country’s main highways. Many roads in the mountain regions are impassible without winter chains and heavy snow contributes to poor visibility. Drivers have been asked to exercise extreme caution.
Doctors’ unions have called on hospital physicians to join a protest against the government’s health-care reform which is to be held on March 1, the unions’ chair Martin Engel said on Friday. The unions asked doctors to take care of their own health on that day, and to inform patients of the risks related to the reform. Only emergency cases should be treated during the protest. The Czech government has implemented a broad reform of the health care system including changes to the structure of hospitals and cuts to their budgets. Doctors also complain the Health Ministry has failed to raise their salaries as promised two years ago.
In related news, some 32 percent of Czechs are happy with their health care, according to a new survey by the CVVM institute released on Friday. Another 33 percent of those polled said they were dissatisfied with the health care system. Most people – around 80 percent – consider financing of public health care the biggest problem while 67 percent said they did not approve of the functioning of health insurance companies. Some two thirds of people who took part in the survey also saw problems in the management of drugs.
The lower house of Parliament on Friday backed a constitutional amendment that would strip MPs convicted to serve prison terms of their mandate. The convicted deputies would also lose their salaries and other benefits. The draft legislation was admitted for further debate in the house; if eventually approved by MPs and Senators, it should come into force during the next parliament. The amendment, tabled by the lower house speaker Miroslava Němcová of the Civic Demoracts, comes in reaction to the case of her former party colleague, MP Roman Pekárek, who is to serve five years in prison for corruption but has refused to give up his mandate. Another MP, former Social Democrat David Rath, has been held in custody since last May also on corruption charges.