Prime Minister Petr Nečas has openly acknowledged that the government’s S-card project, an electronic system for social and welfare benefit payments, was fraught with problems and should be scrapped. At a joint press conference with Labour and Social Affairs Minister Ludmila Mullerová, the prime minister said his proposal would be put to the cabinet at the earliest possible date. The S-card system has come under fire from the opposition, trade unions, recipients of welfare and even the Ombudsman for burdening those whom it is meant to serve and for leaving their personal data open to possible abuse. The system was criticized as being unethical and possibly even in violation of the Constitution. Some recipients of welfare benefits had threatened to take it to court despite the fact that the government backtracked and made significant concessions.
The prime minister’s decision on the S-card project has raised the ire of the coalition party TOP 09 which holds the social affairs portfolio. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek lashed back at the prime minister on Thursday saying the S-card project was viable and deserved support but had failed to get it because the prime minister feared for his political future since his own party had written him off. Prime Minister Necas said he would not respond to stupid, impertinent remarks, but Civic Democrat deputy chairman Jiri Pospisil reacted in anger telling Mr. Kalousek not to pass judgement on Civic Democratic Party affairs.
An audit by the European Commission has arrived at the conclusion that the Czech Finance Ministry is partly to blame for malpractices in the process of drawing of EU funds in the Ustecky and Karlovy Vary regions, Czech Radio said on Thursday. Shirin Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the EU commissioner for regional policy, said the EC audit has confirmed both shortcomings in public tenders and insufficient control by the Finance Ministry. The Finance Ministry last week suspended the payment of European subsidies to the respective regions and expects them to cover the loss from their own budgets.
President Miloš Zeman would like to see the former first lady Livia Klausová become the country’s ambassador to Slovakia, according to Czech public television. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said he was informed about the idea and found it totally unacceptable on the grounds that the former first lady has no experience in the field of diplomacy. He said that in his view the post should go to a career diplomat.
The government is considering introducing substitution therapy for crystal methamphetamine addicts. The head of the national anti-drug coordination centre Jindrich Voboril said at a press briefing on Thursday that tackling the problem of home-made crystal methamphetamine known as pervitin was a big priority in the fight against drugs. There are an estimated 40,000 pervitin users in the Czech Republic and vast quantities of the drug are also being smuggled to neighbouring Germany. Unlike heroin, substitution therapy for pervitin is not available.
The country’s chief hygiene officer Vladimir Valenta has warned the public not to drink unlicensed spirits over the Easter holidays. There are fears that there is still a considerable amount of bootleg liquor containing the deadly methanol in people’s possession. Forty-five people died and many suffered permanent eye damage after drinking methanol-laced bootleg liquor which flooded the market last autumn. Although police confiscated thousands of litres of the deadly spirits a large amount is still unaccounted for.
Emergency services have increasing problems placing patients in hospitals, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes, writes in its Thursday edition. The paper cites paramedics as saying that hospitals refuse even critical patients and ambulances sometimes make the round of five hospitals before a patient is admitted. Hospitals say in their defence that they have a shortage of beds due to the austerity measures and have to refuse patients they cannot physically accommodate. The head of the Prague emergency services says that 20 patients were rejected by hospitals in this manner in the course of just two weeks.
Five people were lightly injured in an accident in a multiplex cinema house in Plzen. According to an eyewitness part of the plasterboard ceiling collapsed in the hallway to one of the cinema halls. One woman was taken to hospital with light injuries, the other four were treated on the spot. The building has been evacuated.
Production of beer increased 2.7 percent year on year in 2012, according to the Czech Brewers’ Association. The increase was driven by higher consumption and export of radlers. Consumption of radlers, popular among young people, reached 434.000 hectolitres in 2012, while consumption of traditional brews dipped slightly. There is also increasing demand for beer in cans and plastic bottles.
Unsuccessful presidential candidate Jan Fischer, who finished fourth in the first round of the country’s first direct presidential election in January, is pooling funds to pay off unsettled campaign debts, reports Mladá fronta Dnes. According to the Czech daily, Mr Fischer received a donation of 2 million crowns from lawyer Daniel Palko this week. The head of his election team Jan Pirk said that additional funds would gradually be added. Some creditors to Mr Fischer’s campaign have reportedly already received first instalments.