Daily news summary
Press: EU warns Czech government over civil service act
The European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen has warned the Czech government that if it fails to address shortcoming related to the country’s recently approved civil service act, EU funding for Czech operational programme in the period 2014 – 2020 will be put on hold, the news website lidovky.cz reported on Wednesday. In a letter to the Czech ministers of interior, regional development and labour and social affairs, the commissioner said that the areas of public officials’ salaries and the transparency of their selection procedures still needed to be adjusted. The civil service act was approved in October; however, President Miloš Zeman filed a complaint over the legislation with the Constitutional Court.
Czech public debt to decrease this year, finance minister says
The Czech Republic’s public debt should this year reach 1.663 trillion crowns, some 20 billion less than in the previous year, Finance Minister Andre Babiš said. If Mr Babiš’s estimate proves correct, the public debt would decrease for the first time since 1995. Mr Babiš spoke to reporters after meeting President Miloš Zeman on Wednesday. Mr Zeman had established a personal fund to decrease the public debt; the two officials destroyed a four-million state bond as the fund’s latest contribution towards the debt.
Central bank keeps rates unchanged, continues exchange rate interventions
The Czech National Bank on Wednesday announced it would keep its interest rates unchanged at 0.05 percent, and would continue intervening against the Czech crown to keep the exchange rate at around 27 crowns per euro. Last month, the bank said it would continue intervening at foreign exchange markets until 2016, primarily to curb the risk of deflation. The bank’s key two-week repo rate has been kept at the historic low since November 2012. An analyst for the Home Credit loans provider quoted by the news agency ČTK said he was not surprised by the move, and suggested that foreign exchange interventions could possibly end in a year’s time.
Man in very serious condition after setting himself on fire in central Prague
A man is in a very serious condition in hospital after setting himself on fire in central Prague on Tuesday. The man, who is 56, doused himself in a flammable liquid and set himself alight at the top of Wenceslas Square shortly before midnight. Passersby attempted to put out the flames with jackets before a fire extinguisher was found. A spokesperson for the police said the man had been on day-release from a Prague 8 mental hospital but had not returned in the evening.
No explosions heard for five days at Vrbětice munitions depot
No blasts have been heard for the last five days at the munitions depot in Vrbětice, a police spokeswoman said on Wednesday. The latest spontaneous explosion occurred last Friday night. Pyrotechnics experts will only start clearing the site and removing remaining ammunitions after nine days of calm, the police said. The depot, where around 7,000 tonnes of munitions were stored, first exploded in mid-October, killing two people. Continuing blasts have prevented experts from clearing the depot and removing the ammunition to a safe location. The inhabitants of nearby villages have been repeatedly evacuated because of the explosions.
Prague court delivers stricter verdict in Opencard case
A court of appeals in Prague on Wednesday sentenced the former head of Prague City Hall’s IT department, Ivan Seyček, to 3.5 years in prison over his role in the controversial Opencard project. Mr Seyček, had been found guilty of manipulating the selections procedure for a smart card in favour of the firm Haguess, despite the fact the company failed the meet the city hall’s requirements. In February, a lower court handed Mr Seyček a conditional sentence. The court of appeals confirmed a conditional sentence for another former city hall official. Some 1.2 million people in Prague use Opencard as a public transport pass; the massively overpriced project has cost the city around 1.35 billion crowns.
Finance minister’s company wins major deal from state-owned forestry firm
The firm Uniles, part of the Agrofert Group owned exclusively by Finance Minister and ANO party leader Andrej Babiš, has won eight logging and sales contracts from the state-owned forestry firm Lesy ČR. That is more than any other company bidding for a total of 30 five-year contracts from the state-owned firm. Under the contracts, Uniles is entitled to annually log some 300,000 cubic metres of wood in state-owned forests. Mr Babiš has come under criticism over the contracts for his firm; the opposition Civic Democrats said this was a case of a massive conflict of interest.
Carmaker TPCA to cut hundreds of jobs in March
The Czech-based car manufacturer is planning to let go some 500 agency workers in March, a spokesman for the company said, giving decreasing demand for its new models at the reason. The carmaker, which produces Toyota, Peugeot, and Citroen models, now employs around 3,700 workers, some 800 of whom have been hired through agencies. However, the firm expects to produce some 220,000 cars next year, some 10 percent less than previously thought.
Czech Republic to provide communist-era secret police documents to Slovakia
The Czech Republic will provide communist-era secret police documents related to Slovak citizens to Slovakia, according to an agreement between the Czech Republic’s Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and the Security Forces Archive and Slovakia’s Nation’s Memory Institute, signed in the Slovak capital on Wednesday. The digitalized documents will initially only be available for researchers of the Slovak institute, its chair, Ondrej Krajňák, told reporters. The volume of documents to be transferred has not been determined, according to Czech officials who said it would depend on requests from their Slovak colleagues.
ČSOB fined for refusing to accept damaged banknotes
The Czech National Bank has fined ČSOB bank for refusing to accept or exchange damaged notes, iDnes.cz reported. The CZK 300,000 fine comes three years after the central bank ordered ČSOB to take in damaged notes following complaints from customers of Česká pošta post offices, which with ČSOB cooperates. The Czech National Bank sent staff to attempt to use damaged notes at branches of Česká pošta, which runs ČSOB’s Era and Poštovní spořitelna accounts, and around a third were rejected.