With less than a fortnight to go before the end of the year, the Czech Environment Ministry has decided to allocate some of the remaining annual budget to the very last public tender for promotional items, some of which have raised eyebrows. Public institutions see these kinds of end-of-year spending sprees as necessary, but critics see it simply as a waste of public funds.
The last-minute tender in question, written out for promotional materials for the Environment Ministry’s Czech Nature campaign, should cost around 600 thousand crowns - a relatively small amount for a ministry budget. What irks the Czech media is what the money will be spent on.
The list of items the ministry wants to buy for this money sounds a bit like a well-known song The Twelve Days of Christmas: six thousand pens, crayons, bags, umbrellas and stickers, two hundred cufflinks and scarves. And the item that has got many riled up is the order for one thousand pieces of underwear with a picture of a beaver on women’s knickers and the Cormorant bird on the male trunks.
Critics have noted not only the inappropriate connotations of the images, but also the unlikely promotional value of the items. The outgoing Environment Minister Tomáš Podivínský is convinced of the opposite, with the news server Lidovky.cz quoting him as saying that this is a way to make the media talk about the environment and that it will help people realize that we have to continuously care for our birds and beavers.
The well-known environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnutí Duha) was unimpressed. The group’s expert on forestry, Jaromír Bláha, told me this is not the first blunder of the Czech Nature campaign:
“The campaign to promote Czech nature began some time ago, under the previous minister, with billboards featuring the invasive plant big-leaved Lupine, which originally comes from North America. The problem is that the ministry actually spends millions of crowns trying to keep this invasive breed in check. The newest racy element of the campaign is the underwear. I consider this to be greenwashing. At a time when the ministry allows nature in some parts of the country to be destroyed, using public money for the promotion of nature is hypocritical.”
The Environment Ministry provided no comment to Radio Prague before this program aired. But beyond undergarments and cufflinks, the ministry tried to spend out the last millions left in the budget for others things. In a slightly controversial move especially for the Environment Ministry, Mr Podivinský announced recently that he plans to replace the ministry’s full fleet of 130 cars with new vehicles, costing tens of millions of crowns. There was no indication that the new vehicles will be especially environmentally friendly.
But the Environment Ministry is not alone in its last-ditch attempts to spend the full annual budget by the end of the year by allocating more money to promotional campaigns with relatively little impact. The Czech Supreme Audit Office is planning to look into four promotional campaigns of the Agriculture Ministry, which have all, at some point or another, received very similarly rushed end-of-year financial injections.