Representatives of Prague City Hall have, after four hours of discussions, approved a 52-million budget for the city. The city has had a provisional budget until now. In the coming year, Prague anticipates income of 37.4 billion and expenses of 46.4 billion, with the difference to be paid through income from the state, savings from previous years and unused money from 2010. A debt of 5.8 billion for which the city is issuing bonds will also be repaid. Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda said that the budget was the best possible compromise. Last year’s budget was 50.3 billion.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said Thursday there was no evidence of what the state had gained for about a half of the 525 million crowns it paid to the company ProMoPro during the Czech EU presidency in 2009. A part of the sum, he added, ended up in suspicious accounts abroad. Mr Kalousek and ministry analyst Milan Cicer told journalists that almost 135 million crowns have been blocked in Austrian accounts in connection to the affair. Last week, Czech anti-corruption police launched an investigation into the government´s 550 million crown ProMoPro order.
The anti-corruption department of the police is charging 54 people with manipulating public tenders in the Ministry of Defence during the years 2005 and 2007. According to police spokesman Roman Skřepek, it is the most extensive case in the department’s history. Thirty-six of the suspects are under investigation for abuse of power, fraud and bribery. Another 18 are being charged with criminal conspiracy. The police say tacit partnerships were formed based on business and personal contacts with persons inside and out of the Ministry of Defence, who then coordinated tenders for preselected businesses. If convicted, the suspects face up to ten years’ imprisonment.
A new poll published by the company Regus suggests that stress from commuting to the workplace negatively affects Czechs’ work performance. Respondents surveyed said that the main agitations in commuting were aggressive and hazardous drivers, the smell of other passengers or their food, and dirty and overheated public transport. According to the poll, 43% of people travel to work by car, 43% by public transport and 14% on foot. The average commute in the Czech Republic was said to be 27 minutes each way, and 45 minutes for 12% of Czechs.
A survey conducted by the SANEP agency concerning the race for the chairmanship of the Social Democratic Party suggests that a majority of the public would prefer the post be filled by the Governor of South Moravia, Michal Hašek. Social Democrat voters however responded in favour of acting chairman Bohuslav Sobotka 59% to 22%. Mr Hašek and Mr Sobotka are the main rivals for the position, which will be voted on at a party conference on the weekend of March 18th in Brno.
The TOP 09 party is demanding the resignation of a Communist MP who extolled the work of communist era border guards in Parliament. TOP 09 says that the head of the Communist Party’s Prague branch Marta Semelová violated her oath of office by showing a disregard for human rights in her response to a debate over the recognition of the anti-communist resistance. Ms Semelová said that it was border guards who ensured peace in the face of heavily armed border violators. She has said she would not resign and that her words were true. Nearly 300 people died trying to cross the Czechoslovak border during the four decades of communism, and roughly 50 border guards were killed during that time.
Health Minister Leoš Heger and Czech Doctors´ Union head Martin Engel have signed a joint memorandum to avert a mass walk out of disgruntled hospital doctors. Mr Heger said that the agreement meant a reconciliation in which both sides could say that they made concessions. Mr Engel has called on the 3800 protesting doctors to withdraw their notices of resignation. Depending on their education and expertise, doctors are to receive 5,000 to 8,000 crowns more per month through a change in the base pay. By 2013, their average pay is to be 1.5 to 3 times higher than the average national salary, as they demanded. Roughly two billion crowns intended for salaries are to be transferred to hospitals immediately.
The Supreme Court of Appeals in Prague has confirmed a regional court ruling and sentenced two men to 5.5 and 8.5 years in prison for the loss of 500 million crowns from the account of a Czech Consolidation Agency subsidiary. According to the prosecution, former manager Jan Šik sent the money abroad in 2005 to businessman Miloš Skořepa without the permission of the board of directors. The latter then put the money to personal use. Both men were ordered to pay a total of 96 million crowns plus interest to the company. The remainder of the money was recovered from a Swiss bank.
The government is meeting with business and union leaders on Thursday to discuss pension reform. The reform follows a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court last year which said that the current pension system, where big earners are disadvantaged when it comes to pension payments, was unfair and should be amended. The solution advanced by the minister of labour and social affairs to offer top earners bigger payments at the expense of a 6.0 percent cut for 80 percent of the population has been attacked by unions. The three-way meeting will also discuss plans to simplify benefit payments and financing of transport infrastructure from 2011-2013.
The governing coalition parties and the Social Democrats have agreed on certain aspects of potential direct election of the president. Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil told reporters on Thursday that a major barrier in the debate had fallen when the Social Democratic Party withdrew its demand for the possibility of dismissing the head of state though a plebiscite or general referendum. Further discussions will involve the possibility of impeachment, leaving the Constitutional Court to rule on any constitutional infractions committed by a directly elected president when both houses of Parliament ask it to do so. The Czech head of state is currently elected by Parliament.
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Prague’s historical Koh-i-noor factory to be converted into residential area
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