Abuse of MPs expenses still plaguing Czech politics

Libor Ambrozek

Abuse of MPs expenses is an ongoing problem on the Czech political scene –and occasionally politicians pay a high price for the malpractice. On Thursday, former environment minister Libor Ambrozek admitted he had for years abused the expenses he received as an MP, using them to help finance his new family home. Mr. Ambrozek, who was running for the post vice-governor of the South Moravian region, fully admitted his guilt and withdrew his candidacy. Last year, the acting head of the Social Democrats Bohuslav Sobotka was embroiled in a similar scandal. Earlier Radio Prague spoke to political analyst Jiří Pehe about what’s behind the frequent abuse of MPs expenses.

“I think that the problem is systemic. I think the whole system of payments to deputies in the Czech Republic has been created in such a way that it is very difficult for deputies to distinguish between their salaries and various other payments which they get for travel, and so on, per diem. So I think that the system is wrong and the question of course is why that is so. I think it is wrong not because parliament deputies and senators are not aware of the problem but because it is in their interest to maintain this system. Just like the immunity that they enjoy, which is unusually high in the Czech Republic.”

So what is the solution here?

Libor Ambrozek
“Well, I think that the solution – if anyone wanted a solution – would be simple –to separate the deputies’ salaries from other payments in a clear way and introduce rules under which deputies would have to show how much they had spent on travel and other expenses and they would have to return any left-over funds. The problem is that this kind of legislation is not in the interest of deputies and senators so it will be very difficult to introduce. The current system – although it is often criticized and some deputies are occasionally punished or criticized for abusing expenses – at the end of the day it is in the interest of members of Parliament.”

But in Britain they amended the system in the wake of a similar scandal –is there no way of putting pressure on Czech deputies and senators to introduce an adequate control mechanism?

“There is perhaps a way to do that. All it would take is one fairly influential party that would take this up as its objective and include it in its programme. It seems that in the current situation, this role could be played by the Public Affairs Party which put anti-corruption measures and reducing the immunity of deputies and senators in its programme. So if this party follows its electoral promises then perhaps things could move forward. But at this point it seems that no one is doing anything and I do not see any major changes coming soon.”