Industry and Commerce Minister Martin Kocourek has been sacked following allegations of corruption. Earlier on Wednesday Mr Kocourek, a member of the Civic Democratic Party, said he had no intention of resigning over questions regarding multimillion-crown payments made in bonds to the account of his mother. That decision, he said, would rest with the Prime Minister, with whom was to meet later on. Prime Minister Nečas said after that meeting, via his spokesman, that while he saw no reason to suspect Mr Kocourek of corruption, he had made unfortunate decisions in his financial management in 2008.
Earlier Wednesday Mr Kocourek said that the 16 million crowns in bonds sent to his mother’s account via an investment company was legitimately his. His rationale for transferring it in this way though was to spare the money from a problematic divorce settlement in 2008. Legal analysts have speculated as to whether that act itself may have amounted to fraud.
Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil has warned that the prison system lacks money for food, water, fuel and electricity next year. He has therefore asked the government to approve an additional 75 million crowns for the ministry’s budget to fund prison services. Mr Pospíšil says that in light of the overcrowded conditions in Czech prisons, a lack of finances could have fatal results in the form of mass prisoner protests. The Justice Ministry warned of a critical situation in prisons in the spring of this year, whereupon it asked for 350 million crowns. A payment of 145 million went to the prison system directly from the government’s budget in the summer. The new request states that that payment solved the immediate problem, but that the prisons are now back to square one.
The junior coalition party Public Affairs has sided with the opposition to maintain the system of subsidised meal vouchers for employees. The proposal to do away with the system was part of the government’s tax reform and the vote was very close, with 84 of 157 MPs present voting to keep the system on the third vote. Supporters of meal tickets, among them the Union of Employers, point to their popularity, with 1.3 million people using them, and the fact that their absence as a bonus would mean 800 crowns less for employees per month. The government has proposed a substitute bonus of 250 crowns per month.
The lower house of Parliament has passed a new version of the Civil Code. If ratified in the Senate, the extensive, 3,000-paragraph bill will be valid until 2014 and will introduce three basic spheres of private law – family, ownership and contracts. The Justice Ministry hails the new codex as ensuring better protection for the rights of citizens. The Communist Party, which has stalled the bill since the summer, counters that it benefits owners and the wealthy. The approval of the new Civil Code, which was ten years in the making, has been one of the government’s top priorities. The current civil code came into effect in 1964 and, despite being updated since, does not take into account all areas of modern life.
The Czech governing coalition has agreed on postponing its tax reform until 2014. Zbyněk Stanjura, chairman of the Civic Democrat parliamentary party told reporters on Tuesday the new rules would be effective as of 2014, but a new system of gambling taxation would be introduced at the beginning of next year. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said the move was necessary in order to harmonise the legislation with the Czech Civil Code. The coalition leaders agreed that lottery tax revenues would be divided between municipal authorities and the state, with 70 percent staying with the local authorities and 30 percent going to state coffers.
Doctors’ unions negotiating pay rises with the Ministry of Health failed to reach any agreement on Wednesday after a meeting with minister Leoš Heger. Mr Heger is insisting on a 6.25% rise from January in place of the 10% he negotiated earlier this year. An analysis of January income, he says, will not allow him to provide more, and he plans to make up the remaining percentage during the course of 2012. The unions are demanding the agreed rises as of January and have organised a series of protests to try to hold the ministry to its word. At the beginning of the year, hospital physicians threatened mass resignations if their salaries were not raised to meet Western European standards.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš says he knows who was responsible for publishing the sensitive information of Roma students on the ministry’s website on Monday. Mr Dobeš told reporters on Wednesday that he was still unsure whether the leak was intentional or accidental, but that the individual will be fired. Information about almost 900 Roma students receiving financial support – including their names, addresses and dates of birth – was published temporarily on Monday on the website of the Ministry of Education before being reported on by Czech Television.
The Prague City Gallery has moved another ten of the 20 canvasses of Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic to the capital and plans to complete the move in the coming days. No date has yet been set for when the paintings will be put on display. The gallery says it is negotiating a contract for special wooden structures on which to hang the enormous Art Nouveau works and is arranging special heating for the hall in which they are to be presented.
Wednesday’s Lidové noviny reports that so-called “donor consultants” have begun work in the Czech Republic to assist in finding appropriate donors for critical organs. Such donors would be patients who are officially dead, i.e. brain dead or whose hearts have conclusively stopped. The consults are experienced physicians funded in part from European funds. Within the next few years there should be 70 in all working at all teaching hospitals. According to statics, about 200 donors a year save or improve the lives of some 450 others. The work of donor consultants could double those numbers.
A new anti-corruption prize, the Bílá lilie (White Lily) has been awarded for the first time to Oldřich Kužílek, a former MP and advisor for transparent administration. Mr Kužílek received the award – a crystal vase in the shape of a lily and 200,000 crowns – from the hands of former president Václav Havel, who is the patron of the prize. The aim of the annual award is to reward transparency in public administration and the struggle against corruption.
Currently cloudy conditions are expected to improve on Thursday, daytimes highs should be around 11° Celsius.