Speaking on Wednesday, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said that a recently approved church restitution bill would have an impact on the budget for this year, even though the state has not yet begun making payments to church organisations. He said that was because under European Union rules the CZK 59 billion would have to be accounted as a one-off outlay this year. Mr. Kalousek said the 2012 budget deficit could therefore reach 5 percent of gross domestic product, rather than the projected 3.5 percent.
Alexandr Vondra has announced he is stepping down as Czech defence minister. Mr. Vondra made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, saying he had lost the trust of voters, who did not re-elect him to the Senate in elections in October. He will officially take his leave at the end of next week. His position had previously been weakened by a scandal surrounding overspending on the Czech EU presidency in 2009, when he was deputy prime minister for European affairs. Mr. Vondra, who is 51, was a dissident and Charter 77 signatory and spent two months in jail in 1989 for organising an anti-communist demonstration.
A footbridge by the train station in Plzeň has been named after Ivan Martin Jirous, a Czech poet and key underground figure who died last year. The honour was the initiative of three civic groups in the West Bohemian city. It will actually be named the Ivan Magor Jirous Bridge, in reference to the late writer and hell raiser’s nickname (Magor means madman).
The number of new cases of HIV registered in the Czech Republic this year is, at 198, the highest since records began following the discovery of AIDS in the mid 1980s. A doctor who works with HIV patients said that the number of fresh cases was on the rise because fear of contracting it had subsided and people were having more unprotected sex. Three in five of those identified as being HIV positive in 2012 had engaged in gay sex.
The Chamber of Deputies approved next year’s draft budget in its first reading on Wednesday, when 79 of 152 deputies present voted for it. The budget envisages a deficit of CZK 100 billion, or just over USD 5 billion. The deficit should equal 2.9% of gross domestic product. A final reading of the draft budget is scheduled for December 19. Failure to approve it would lead to a provisional budget at the start of next year.
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.
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.
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