Embattled transport minister announces decision to step down

Dan Ťok, photo: ČTK / Michal Krumphanzl

Transport Minister Dan Ťok has announced his decision to step down. The country’s longest-serving transport minister is being blamed for the state of the country’s permanently congested D1 highway and procrastination in failing to secure a new operator for the tolling system on Czech highways.

Dan Ťok,  photo: ČTK / Michal Krumphanzl
Minister Ťok made his announcement amid growing speculation that he would be one of the ministers recalled in a pending cabinet reshuffle. The embattled transport minister said he would not wait to be dismissed, revealing that he had offered the prime minister his resignation already in January of this year.

“I am tired not from the work that the post entails, which has been rewarding, but from the constant attacks against me and from the various efforts made to by-pass me.”

Minister Ťok was referring to a recent revelation stemming from a police investigation that Jaroslav Faltýnek, a senior official from the ANO party and the prime minister’s chief aide, had led secret negotiations regarding the tender for an operator to run the tolling system on Czech highways. This was at a time when the minister came under fire for prolonging a contract with the Austrian company Kapsch after failing to organize a competitive tender in time.

The transport minister was also blamed for the slow pace of reconstruction of the country’s highways, the building of new stretches and the generally poor state of Czech roads. The problems surrounding the permanently congested D1 highway, the country’s main connection from Prague to Brno, led to a special session of the lower house at which deputies called for the minister’s head.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK / David Taneček
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who had tried to keep the planned cabinet changes under wraps, until consulting them with President Zeman on Wednesday, said he understood and accepted minister Ťok’s decision.

“It was never my intention to dismiss him. He is leaving at his own request and frankly, it does not surprise me, given the constant attacks against him. I think he did plenty of good work and deserves our thanks for it.”

The prime minister highlighted particularly the fact that since taking office in 2014 minister Ťok had successfully tackled long-standing problems with corruption and had halved the cost of highway construction. He refused to comment on who would be Dan Ťok’s successor, noting only that the post required a capable manager.

Marta Nováková,  photo: ČTK / Kateřina Šulová
The prime minister was also tight-lipped on the planned cabinet reshuffle, refusing to comment on speculation that Trade and Industry Minister Marta Nováková would be replaced as well after mishandling a diplomatic incident at her ministry when a representative of Taiwan was asked to leave a meeting at the request of the Chinese ambassador.

Transport Minister Dan Ťok said with regard to his departure that he would leave the time-frame up to the prime minister, and there has been speculation that details of the cabinet reshuffle would be announced by mid-May at the latest, but given minister Ťok’s decision to jump the gun, the news may come sooner rather than later.