'Welfare-to-work' style move behind lowering of minimum subsistence level; mandatory receipts for 50-crown plus purchases to be rescinded; Justice Minister submits conflict-of-interest proposal; Senator Alexandr Novak charged taking a 43 million crown bribe; Aero Vodochody to expand its suburban Prague airport to attract budget airlines; Finance Minister proposes consolidation of financial market oversight within CNB.
The Cabinet this week approved a measure for lowering the minimum subsistence level by some 33 percent. The main goal is to encourage people on welfare to accept low-paying jobs rather than continue to receiving state benefits. For a single individual, the minimum subsistence level would drop from roughly 0 per month to 5. Separate subsidies for housing and living expenses have been introduced to reward those who seek employment.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has announced plans to scale down a highly unpopular move requiring businesses to issue receipts for all purchases over 50 crowns, or roughly . The measure, intended to clamp down on the grey economy, had only been in effect for two weeks. Mr Paroubek said it had created an unnecessary administrative burden. As of September or October, retailers will only be required to issue such receipts if a customer requests one.
The government this week approved a new conflict-of-interest bill that calls for Cabinet ministers, legislators, judges and other state and regional officials to declare their assets upon taking office and report any significant increases during their tenure. The bill, put forward by Justice Minister Pavel Nemec, also envisions a clause that would prevent former officials from going to work for the private businesses they oversaw while in office, but no time period is specified. The proposal stops short of requiring the full declaration of assets of official's spouses. In order to become law the bill still has to pass through parliament.
In related news, Senator Alexandr Novak of the main opposition Civic Democratic Party has been charged with bribery. He is alleged to have taken a 43-million-crown bribe back in 2000, when he was mayor of Chomutov. Novak, who faces up to eight years in prison if found guilty, had mediated the sale of municipal shares in the power and gas distributing companies to a German company. The Senate stripped him of immunity in November 2003 and released him for prosecution after investigators discovered that Senator Novak had failed to declare the transfer of large sums from a Cyprus account in his name to an Austrian bank.
The aircraft manufacturer Aero Vodochody plans to open an international airport at its existing airfield just north of Prague. The state-owned company, which the Cabinet agreed this week to privatise, said the airport would cater to low-cost airlines like EasyJet and SmartWings. Potential buyers of Aero Vodochody are thought to be more interested in owning such an airport than in the aircraft production line itself, which includes the L-159 fighter training aircraft. Airbus and BAE are reportedly among the likely bidders.
In other news, Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has proposed that all four of the financial-markets oversight agencies be incorporated into a single body within the Czech National Bank. Mr Sobotka said his ministry would submit a concrete proposal to the Cabinet within a few months' time. Brokers and analysts welcomed the proposal, which came in an amendment to market legislation now under consideration in Parliament. The Securities and Exchange Commission, however, which now assumes some of the oversight, was reportedly taken aback by the proposal.
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