06-02-2001

The Czech daily newspapers, of course, do NOT report on the happy ending of the Cuban adventure of Mr Pilip and Mr Bubenik, as the surprise turnaround in their case took place at around three am central European time, after the papers had gone to print.

However, what all of them DO report on is the shaky position of Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik. The successful and popular minister is under strong pressure from the opposition Civic Democratic Party, who are unable to forgive him for his radical solution to the impending collapse of the IPB bank. Representatives of this financial institution used to have overly friendly relations with prominent members of the Civic Democratic Party, which was the dominant partner in the previous coalition government. The latest attack on Mr Mertlik came after his deputy, Jan Mladek, was accused of diplomatic clumsiness in negotiations with Italian investors.

This case is the lead story in both ZEMSKE NOVINY and PRAVO. ZEMSKE NOVINY reports that there is tension between Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik, who has been instructed to remove Mr Mladek before Zeman returns from his trip to Sweden, which Mertlik has refused to do.

PRAVO recalls that the problems began three weeks ago, when Mr Mladek met with Italian investors. He allegedly said that they had no chance to participate in the privatisation of Czech companies, in particular the second largest Czech bank, Komercni Banka, which is due to be sold to a strategic partner this year. Mladek defends himself, claiming that it was the fault of an interpreter, and that he told the Italians that they wouldn't stand a chance if they did not become more active. All the same, Mr Mertlik's future is at stake.

LIDOVE NOVINY warns that there is a danger of personal data abuse in the general census planned for the end of February. The paper points out that the census questionnaire includes people's name and the so-called birth number, a unique ID code every Czech receives at birth. This information combined with data concerning personal property, occupation, interests and religious denomination could be highly valuable for marketing and advertising agencies, as well as for burglars.

The Czech Statistical Office will hire some 50,000, predominantly unemployed, to collect this sensitive data. Besides that, LIDOVE NOVINY discovered that the Statistical Office has also hired a private firm to process the data collected - something which the paper sees as a serious threat to privacy in the Czech Republic.

And finally, the leading business daily HOSPODARSKE NOVINY, claims that the government has secured a further influx of foreign direct investment. Originally, the criteria for selling the second largest Czech bank, Komercni Banka, to a strategic partner included the price and the investor's rating. But the cabinet has recently adopted additional criteria, which would evaluate the ability of contenders to finance Czech industry and the amount of other foreign direct investment they could bring with them.

06-02-2001