Ombudsman Pavel Varvařovsý has criticised the way some public authorities assess disabled people’s property and income when they apply for help with equipment such as electric-powered wheelchairs. The ombudsman pointed out that such invasive investigations had no basis in law and the disabled were in effect treated as if they were at a bank seeking a loan. The criticism follows in the wake of an application from a hard of hearing couple who asked for money to buy a specialized computer that would allow them to make telephone calls and use an online interpreter service. Authorities demanded proof of their handicap from their doctor and details of their bank balance and other assets before clearing the payment. Enquires found that such procedures were far from uncommon across the country.
The committee selecting a new police chief has recommended the deputy head of the south Moravian force, Petr Lessy, to occupy the top post. The 46-year old previously marked himself out for his forceful action against football hooligans and extremists when he served in north Moravia. The recommendation must still be cleared by Prime Minister Petr Nečas. He said Mr. Lessy had been talked about as a hot favourite for the post by Mr. John for several weeks and that he had doubts about the correctness and objectivity of the committee's selection. The Prime Minister said he would seek a meeting with the interior minister. Interior Minister Radek John said that he hoped the appointment could be made official on Friday. The selection procedure – proposed by the Interior Minister has evoked controversy on the Czech political scene and divided the governing coalition. Legal experts have expressed the view that the selection committee might even be in breach of the law.
Dozens of Czechs demonstrated outside the government buildings on Wednesday to protest state forestry company, Lesy České Republiky’s, long term economic plans. The protest was masterminded by the environmental group Friends of the Earth Czech Republic. It says plans for large, long term contracts for private companies to cut timber and manage forests from next year will result in over exploitation and damage to a public resource. The plan has also been attacked by private timber companies, some saying that it favours large companies at the expense of small and mid-sided ones. The Ministry of Agriculture argues that such mega tenders will be more transparent and less liable to corruption. The government was expected to debate the plan at its regular meeting on Wednesday but eventually postponed a decision.
The government finally adopted its proposed anti-corruption strategy on Wednesday. Most of the around 50-point package was already agreed two weeks ago but five points were held over for further discussions between members of the ruling coalition. The five outstanding issues were resolved on Wednesday. One issue concerned the circumstance in which illegally earned property could be seized. Another concerned treatment of criminals who opted to help the state. It was decided that they will be sentenced along with other criminals but punishment can be waived. The anti-corruption package should provide the roadmap for a series of specific laws and measures to be taken by 2012. Discussions on the strategy opened a wide rift between the leader of the Public Affairs party and Minister of Interior Radek John and Prime Minister Petr Nečas.
Minister of Agriculture Ivan Fuksa has said no checks so far have revealed excess levels of cancer causing dioxins in eggs, poultry or pork on sale in the Czech Republic. The reassurance comes amid continuing concern that contaminated food was imported from neighbouring Germany where dioxin has been detected in large amounts of animal feed and food. The minister however said that consumers should check on the origin of their food and favour home produced produce. The State Veterinary Service had checked around 30 samples of food exported from Germany with negative results. The checks will continue at least until the end of the month.
Transport Minister Vít Barta has said he wants to more than double the budget for repairs to motorways and highways next year according to Wednesday’s edition of the business daily, Hospodářské noviny. The paper says he plans to boost the budget from this year’s 4.0 billion crowns to 9.0 billion crowns. He also wants to share out the work between more companies, get better offers from them for the work, and guarantees that the repaired stretches of road will stand up to wear and tear longer.
The three way coalition government would slump to a minority of 87 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament according to a public opinion poll conducted by the agency STEM. This compares with their current comfortable majority of 118 lawmakers in the lower house following elections at the end of May 2010. The January survey puts the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, out in front with 81 seats and 26.4 percent of preferences followed by the Civic Democrats with 45 seats and 15 percent of preference. That would be the worst poll survey result for the Civic Democrats since March 1998.
The Czech government has backed a proposal to cut the prices paid and reimbursement offered for medical drugs. The government has put its weight behind a backbench member of parliament’s call to cut the prices paid for a range of drugs by 7.0 percent with a corresponding cut in the reimbursement paid by health insurers be supported. The proposal counts on costs of around a third of drugs whose prices have not undergone a price review by the State Institute for Drug Control. Eleven international drug companies have said that will start legal action against the Czech state for setting maximum prices for their products with around 20 more expected to join the action.
The government has approved a plan give higher pay to nursing sisters, midwives and other health staff who are not qualified doctors. A proposal aimed in this direction had been advanced by the Ministry of Health with the government giving its support to the idea on Wednesday. Nursing sisters would be allowed under the measure to carry out specialised procedures with health insurance payments covering them. Registration of the country’s around 45,000 nursing sisters would also be extended automatically with payments for extensions being cut. The six existing categories for ambulance staff would be cut to one but their job description clarified.
Czech tennis player Sandra Záhlavová came close to producing the upset of the Australian Open so far. She pushed fourth seed Venus Williams to three sets after taking the first set on a tie break 7:6 in the second round tie. An injured Williams came back to take the second set to love but narrowly won the third 6:4. Separately, top seeded Czech in the men’s singles, Tomáš Berdych, came back from a set down to win in four sets against German Phillipp Kohlschreiber.
The coming days should remain bright but colder with temperatures slipping to minus six degrees Celsius on Saturday.