Defence Minister dismissed after months of speculation

Vladimir Vetchy

On Thursday, the Social Democrat government announced that Defence Minister Vladimir Vetchy is to be removed from his post, ending months of speculation over his future. The Defence Ministry has been beset by scandal after scandal for years, and since Mr Vetchy took over as minister in the summer of 1998, there has been little change. Nick Carey has more.

Vladimir Vetchy
There have been endless problems at the ministry with attempts to reform the armed forces to meet NATO standards, and several contracts with suppliers have proven bogus or corrupt. Mr Vetchy had come under increasingly heavy fire, and according to commentators, it was merely a matter of time before he had to resign, or was simply dismissed. Petr Necas of the opposition Civic Democrats, who heads the parliamentary defence committee, says Mr Vetchy's failure boiled down to poor personnel choices and a lack of planning and vision:

"Mr Vetchy made grave mistakes in the selection of his close colleagues and the second problem is that Mr Vetchy was not able to create a very clear and inspirational vision of our armed forces, especially a vision for their future."

According to government spokesman Libor Roucek, the serious problems at the Defence Ministry were inherited by Mr Vetchy, who was simply unable to resolve them fast enough:

"It is true that Mr Vetchy and the Social Democrat government inherited vast problems from the past, for instance, the acquisition of subsonic aeroplanes, and there was the modernisation of the T-72 tank. With each project there was a problem. True, they were inherited from the past, but we needed a faster and speedier solution of those problems."

Mr Vetchy defended himself on Thursday by saying that he had devoted all of his energy to the ministry's problems. Commentator Jan Urban feels this is true, but that Mr Vetchy simply lacked the managerial skills necessary for the job:

"He is not lying, he really gave the best he could. It was just not enough to fight this tremendously complicated of changing such a huge piece of post-Communist machinery. Everyone agrees that Vetchy is a decent man, who was just not tough enough and did not have enough managerial skills to cope with this problem."

The intense speculation that preceded Mr Vetchy's removal led to an almost unanimous conclusion that it was no longer a matter of if he would go, but when. Jan Urban thinks that Prime Minister Milos Zeman is to blame:

"I think this is a failure of the prime minister's style of work. Instead of giving a decent, fast political death to his most loyal companions, he gives them, and we could say this is almost a traditional aspect, several months of torture. But it's part of our prime minister's working style."

Jaroslav Tvrdik, currently Deputy Defence Minister, has been named to succeed Mr Vetchy. A former army man and economist, he is, according to some, a unique choice for this extremely tough job:

"This is the first manager, or the first man with managerial experience, to get this post, so it will be very interesting to watch how he copes with this task. But it's absolutely clear right from the very outset that it's probably the most complicated post, under the present circumstances, in this government."