The head of the opposition Social Democrats Bohuslav Sobotka has said the changes on the board of VZP, the country’s largest health insurance company, were merely a redistribution of power between the two senior parties in government and would do nothing to resolve the growing problems in the health sector. Mr. Sobotka also criticized the fact that one of the members of the board of VZP owns a private hospital. The head of the VZP insurance company, Pavel Horák, and the head of the firm’s administrative board, Marek Šnajdr, stepped down on Monday in the face of mounting criticism from the Health Ministry over poor management.
The new Social Affairs Minister Ludmila Mullerova has launched a clean-up operation to cut all possible ties to the former deputy minister Vladimír Šiška who is charged with corruption. The new minister has appointed Jan Vitula and Zdeněk Kadlec her deputies and says more changes will be implemented as of the beginning of next year. Mr. Šiška’s responsibilities will be divided between the two new deputies to lower the risk of abuse of office. The former social affairs minister Jaromír Drábek resigned in connection with the corruption scandal surrounding his deputy.
A Prague state attorney has filed charges of slander and abuse of office against the former police president Petr Lessy. The move comes on the basis of a criminal complaint from the General Inspectorate of the Security Forces. The libel charge is connected to statements Mr Lessy made in the press over half a year ago when he insinuated that a subordinate officer had swept criminal investigations under the rug. Mr. Lessy has dismissed the charges as a pack of lies constructed to remove him from office. Under Czech law the police president cannot be dismissed unless he is suspected of having committed a crime. If convicted of the charges Petr Lessy could face up to three years in jail.
Passive smoking reportedly kills 3,000 Czechs every year. According to a Eurobarometer study there are approximately 3 million smokers in the ten-million-strong Czech Republic. 18,000 Czechs die of smoking-related diseases such as lung and throat cancer every year, of which 3,000 are passive smokers. Doctors say that the borderline where serious problems appear is after 250 thousand cigarettes smoked, which amounts roughly to thirty years of smoking a pack a day.
A Czech tourist whose ruined holiday was not refunded by the bankrupt travel agency’s insurance company has demanded compensation from the state. This is the first case of its kind in the Czech Republic. The insurer of Parkam Holidays which went bankrupt last summer refused to refund clients in full for holidays that fell through arguing that the company’s insurance was low. Something similar happened to the clients of BG Travel which also went bankrupt. The Czech tourist who has set a precedent by demanding that the state refund the money is citing poor legislation which sets a low basic insurance limit for travel companies.
The Czech anti-monopoly office has moved to cancel a tender announced by the Czech National Museum for the reconstruction of its new headquarters, the building that formerly housed the Czechoslovak federal parliament at the upper end of Wenceslas Square. The anti-monopoly office said it has found serious errors in the 100-million-crown tender which would need to be corrected. The museum has not appealed the decision.
Two foreign nationals being deported from Denmark to Romania attempted to escape during a stop-over at Prague’s Václav Havel Airport on Monday evening. They failed to board a waiting bus and ran across the tarmac to a fence where they were caught by police. Officers had to restrain the two men. The police were reportedly not informed about the reasons for their deportation.
The Constitutional Court has invalidated several articles from the government’s health and social reform laws which were part of a package of laws contested by the opposition. Chief Justice Pavel Rychetský said the articles in question, such as that introducing compulsory community service for the jobless, were unconstitutional, but he upheld the validity of the laws as a whole. The opposition filed a complaint against 14 health, social and pension reform laws on the grounds that they were not properly debated and that opponents of the bills were restricted in their right to address Parliament in the matter. The ruling is seen as a partial victory for the opposition which had been hoping to see the entire package of reform bills invalidated.
Air pollution is reported to have worsened severely in parts of Moravia and Silesia with the concentration of dust particles in the air far exceeding permitted norms at 9 out of 15 monitoring stations. According to data from the Czech Hydro-meteorological Institute the concentration of harmful substances in the air is more than double the permitted norm in Ostrava and exceeds it three times in Karvina where the authorities have advised elderly people and children to stay indoors as much as possible. Air pollution plaques the region for most of the winter months and has increased the incidence of allergies and asthma among the locals.
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