In an interview with Czech Television, Czech president Miloš Zeman has given a positive assessment of the current coalition government, which came into office this January. Specifically, Zeman noted that the government should be ranked on economic growth, and related indicators such as real wages and increased pensions. With this in mind, he said he believed the government has "withstood the test". But Mr. Zeman did note that if it were up to him, he would replace a few "weaker" ministers in the cabinet. The president declined, however, to name names.
A new Czech police unit called "Kobra", designed to investigate financial and tax criminality, has announced the uncovering of a fuel tax deception scheme. According to David Chovanec, a representative of the Czech police's customs directorate, who announced the operation on Friday, CZK 650 million of damages were prevented and 700,000 liters of petrol seized. Although specific details of the case have not been made public, police allege that the chief suspect began importing large quantities of fuel from Germany with a view to committing VAT fraud.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has shrugged off criticism by President Miloš Zeman over a compromise reached with part of the opposition on a civil service bill. The president slammed the government for dropping the idea of a new bureau, including a so-called super bureaucrat to head it, to oversee the state administration, suggesting the bill would not be effective. The prime minister said that while the president had the right to his own opinion, he was not about to scupper a proposal which had backing from some 150 MPs in the Chamber of Deputies. The new civil service law, which should reduce corruption and depoliticize the state administration, is regarded as long overdue.
The Czech coalition and opposition parties have reached a compromise on civil service reform, paving the way for Parliament to adopt the long-overdue legislation. But the deal has come under fire from some Social Democrats as well as anti-corruption advocates, who say the bill has been eviscerated and will likely fall short of improving the country’s public administration.
The minister of finance, Andrej Babiš, is continuing to hold talks with the heads of other ministries on next year’s budget. After a meeting on Tuesday, the minister of the interior, Milan Chovanec, said his ministry would receive CZK 2.5 billion more in 2015 than this year, while the education minister, Marcel Chládek, said his institution would receive over CZK 4 billion more next year. Under present plans, the 2015 budget deficit should not exceed CZK 100 billion.
Officially, members of the cabinet began a two week summer vacation but behind the scenes no one is kicking back yet. On Monday, Finance Minister Andrej Babiš launched negotiations with the heads of the individual ministries on next year’s state budget, some of which will not be easy. The finance minister has promised 12 billion from the budget so far, which next year should include a deficit no greater than 100 billion crowns.
Members of the ruling coalition - the Social Democrats, ANO, and the Christian Democrats - will meet for the next cabinet meeting in two weeks, on August 27. Until then, members of the cabinet are officially off for summer vacation, beginning Monday. Prior to taking time off, the coalition agreed to adjourn an extraordinary session of the lower house, where new civil service legislation was being debated. Otherwise, MPs would have had to meet again this week. The Czech News Agency notes that two weeks of official vacation is the norm, not met for example last year after the fall of the Něcas government, when an interim government was named and sought support during the summer.
The former transport minister in the previous government, Zdeněk Žák, has been named as an advisor to Czech President Miloš Zeman in the area of transport, Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes reports. He joins five others who held ministerial posts in the short-lived government, which was hand-picked by Mr Zeman but never received backing in Parliament’s lower house. Dnes writes that while Žák, like the other advisors, will not be paid in the role of advisor, he could nevertheless have access to non-public information and important contacts. In the last general election, Mr Žák headed the Prague candidate’s list for the Citizens’ Rights - Zemanites Party; the Zemanites were badly defeated, getting only 1.5 percent of the vote, well below the five percent needed.
Czech MPs have taken two weeks to finalize a civil service act, following a breakthrough compromise on the legislation reached by the coalition and opposition parties earlier this week. However, the latest deal has already drawn fire from some quarters for not going far enough to de-politicize the state bureaucracy
A court has returned the passport of former health minister and Central Bohemian regional governor David Rath, who is set to stand trial for corruption next month. Two co-defendants in a case centred on the manipulation of public tenders, Petr Kott and Kateřina Kottová, also got their passports back under the court order. The state attorney’s office has filed a complaint against the move, saying there were fears the three could flee the country and that some of the millions of crowns they are accused of obtaining via bribery has not been located.
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