Another State budget quarrel

The Czech Cabinet has approved the draft state budget for 2002. Although both the final revenues and expenditures are higher than the original proposal, observers say no one is satisfied, since individual ministries demanded far more than economic performance would allow. The state budget as such is in jeopardy as the right-wing opposition parties have already voiced strong criticism of the proposal and said they would vote against it in the Lower House, where the ruling Social Democrats are a minority. Dita Asiedu has the details.

The main opposition Civic Democrats say they will not support the government's planned state budget for next year. Shadow Finance Minister Vlastimil Tlusty says his party is convinced that the government is being hugely overoptimistic as far as state budget revenues are concerned. He says the government is counting on revenues that are far from certain, such as the privatisation of remaining state property, revenues from Russia's debt payments, and increased proceeds from some taxes. Mr. Tlusty also criticised the government for failing to cut mandatory expenditures.

The Civic Democrats and the minority ruling Social Democrats are bound by a controversial power-sharing agreement, which defines the terms under which the Civic Democrats support the government. One of the conditions is that the state budget deficit should be gradually decreased, and that the overall public finance deficits will be reduced to meet the Maastricht Treaty's criteria in 2003.

The state budget for 2002 in its present form seems to have little chance of passing in the lower house, since the Civic Democrats are not the only party to voice serious objections to it. Petr Mares is an MP for the Freedom Union Party.

"We declared that we are prepared to discuss the budget. Our problem is that the Social Democratic Government simply declines to discuss it with us. Our Chairwoman, Mrs. Marvanova, offered discussion to Social Democrat Chairman, Vladimir Spidla and his answer was that the Social Democratic Government doesn't see any reason to discuss it with the Freedom Union. We still believe that they will find some time for us... it's very difficult for us to support the budget because it is the last one in this term and to say 'yes' to it means to say 'yes' to the government."

Debate on the budget in parliament has not yet started. Commentators say that with the general election due in less than a year's time the state budget gives the ruling party an opportunity to attract voters by promising higher public spending, while the remaining parties will do their best to play the role of a responsible opposition.