Interior Minister Radek John confirmed Saturday that he had been aware of allegations of corruption in the State Environmental Fund since the end of last summer, when he met with the fund’s then head Libor Michálek to discuss the situation. At a special press conference Mr John said that he had advised Mr Michálek to procure evidence of his accusations and give them to the proper authorities. Since then, he said, he had not seen Mr Michálek and had not intervened. Mr Michálek then secretly recorded a chief Environment Ministry advisor pressuring him to manipulate state contracts in order to finance the minister’s political career, and later a conversation in which Minister Pavel Drobil himself offered him a promotion if he destroyed the original evidence. Mr Drobil resigned on Wednesday. Leaders of the three-party coalition are due to discuss the affair at an emergency meeting on Sunday.
Meanwhile, President Václav Klaus has thrown his support behind Prime Minister Petr Nečas and the government amid the scandal, while admitting that it was damaging for both the government and the country as a whole. Mr Klaus told the Saturday edition of the daily Lidové noviny that the government had needed to be firm and united, but that Prime Minister Nečas remained the "ideal prime minister for the time being", and he could not envision anyone else in the position. Mr Klaus said that the first decade of the 21st century had been “lost” politically, and the government must be “given the chance to show what it can do”. Opposition parties have tabled a no-confidence vote against Mr Nečas’ government. President Klaus has said it was more likely that it was Mr Drobil’s subordinates who had “erred”, rather than the minister himself.
In the same interview Mr Klaus also addressed a number of other issues, among them a proposal to hold a single tender for the clean-up of environmental damage from the communist era. Mr Klaus said the enormous tender means a serious danger of including hidden and inappropriate costs and that the situation should be handled step-by-step. The “supertender”, which was originally announced in 2008, is worth an estimated 115 billion crowns and merges hundreds of smaller eco-projects.
The president also said he believes the government underestimates the threat of lawsuits arising from its plan to tax solar energy producers in order to reduce the end-user prices of electricity next year. He said that while it was a valid point that the state has the right to set taxes as it deem fit, he was not sure the final legal interpretation would see it through. Solar investors have threatened lawsuits of up to 260 billion crowns if the tax is implemented.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel also addressed the government affair in the Saturday issue of Mladá fronta Dnes, saying they raised his first doubts yet over Prime Minister Necas. Mr Havel said the prime minister’s standpoint on the scandal had been rather ambiguous and that his defence of Environment Minister Drobil was disappointing. He added that the anti-corruption rhetoric that the government parties have been using since elections in May has not convinced him.
The Minister-President of the Free State of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, will be accompanied by the head of the Sudeten German Homeland Association, Bernd Posselt, when he makes his first official, post-war visit to the Czech Republic on December 19. Mr Posselt and his organisation seek the revocation of the 1945 Beneš Decrees, which expelled the German population from Czechoslovak border areas. Prime Minister Petr Nečas told the daily Právo that there was no thought of screening who accompanies a diplomatic guest, and noted that Mr Posselt, who is also a Member of the European Parliament, would not be taking part in official talks. Other German delegations in the past, he said, including those of the Chancellor, had also included representatives of Sudeten Germans.
The daily Právo writes that Czech religious organisations will have to freeze the employment of new clergyman for the next four years. According to Právo, a majority of the country’s 21 churches and religious organisations have agreed with a request from the Ministry of Culture that the numbers of priests, pastors, rabbis and so on for the years 2011 to 2014 will be kept at the level of last October. The ministry’s expenses for clergymen’s wages have more than doubled in the last ten years to 1.4 billion crowns. Clergymen and teachers have been the only state employees to avoid the coalition’s 10% wage cuts plan, as their salaries are roughly 7,000 crowns below the national average. There are currently 4800 clergymen paid by the Ministry of Culture.
Coalition MPs have re-submitted a Senate bill to honour anti-communist resistance fighters. The proposal, which would see active participants in the so-called “third resistance” given the status of veterans of war, was already proposed by the Senate once this year, but was then withdrawn by the left-wing majority that took office after elections. The coalition MPs have now put forward the same text and expect it to go through the government and the lower house with ease. Social and Christian Democratic senators however oppose the bill saying that the veteran status would be allotted randomly by state officials rather than on the basis of true merit. If enacted, beneficiaries would be entitled to non-financial benefits, for example in health care, and would be otherwise merely symbolic.
The Tomáš Baťa University in the Moravian town of Zlín plans to construct a science and technology park next year. The school has told the Czech Press Agency that the 250 million crown project would be focused on information and communications technology and connect the research and development work of the College of Applied Informatics with the corporate sphere. 187 million crowns has been secured though European grants.
Czech legislators from across the political spectrum will be joining with colleagues from the British Houses of Parliament to sing the Czech Christmas Mass by Jakub Jan Ryba in Saint Vitus Cathedral Saturday evening. The event is now in its third year and was first conceived by a 90-member choir of English parliamentarians and parliament employees who gathered to sing the Czech mass in 2007.
The Czech ice hockey team lost 1:3 to the home team Russia in their second match of the annual Channel One Cup in Moscow. The win puts Russia close to an overall win in the Euro Hockey Tour series. The Czech Republic had won 34 medals in the competition’s 43-year history, and can still hope for second place in the tournament.
Conditions over the weekend are expected to be mostly cloudy, bringing more snow and daytime highs in most areas of around -4° Celsius.