Industry minister sacked over mobile data tariffs

Jan Mládek, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has fired Czech Trade and Industry Minister Jan Mládek just eight months ahead of general elections. The minister, who survived a number of crises in office, was given the boot over his alleged unwillingness to secure lower telephone and mobile data tariffs in the Czech Republic.

Jan Mládek,  photo: CTK
Following a series of gaffes relating to mobile data tariffs, Prime Minister Sobotka called a press briefing on Monday to announce the dismissal of Jan Mládek over his failure to support the Czech government’s efforts to cut the excessively high bills Czechs pay for mobile phone services. Although only last week, Sobotka stood up for the industry minister, the growing negative publicity surrounding an issue as sensitive as the cost of mobile tariffs turned the tide.

“As prime minister I have been pushing for a reduction of mobile data tariffs. That has been a strategic goal, but regrettably I did not receive sufficient support from the Ministry of Industry.”

Under Mládek’s leadership Czech officials opposed the recent decision by the EU to cut mobile roaming costs around the block. His words that roaming was a luxury for an elite class of people – approximately five percent of the population, made headlines and even before the uproar surrounding that statement had died down Mládek’s deputy made another gaffe. In an online debate he told people dissatisfied with the high costs of mobile data tariffs that if they want low tariffs like in Poland they should move there. Adding to the general outrage, Mládek failed to dismiss his deputy, instead opting to fire a press official whom he said had left the deputy “in the lurch”. The prime minister quickly distanced himself from these statements, saying they were unbelievably arrogant and offensive to the public.

In a press briefing following news of his dismissal the industry minister said he was victim of a media campaign waged by media formerly owned by ANO leader and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš.

“The prime minister acted on the advice of his PR aides, he acted in reaction to the media campaign against me. I may be old-school, but what should count, in my book, is economic data not media headlines.”

Illustrative photo: Dean Moriarty,  Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain
The industry minister briefly listed his successes in office, citing stable economic growth, support for Czech exporters and growing foreign investments. Meanwhile, the minister’s dismissal – which has been on the cards for various reasons since 2015 –has elicited mostly negative reactions from coalition and opposition politicians. While some Social Democrats say that Minister Mládek, who once kicked up a storm by calling entrepreneurs parasites, had simply gone too far, others, particularly members of the opposition Civic Democrats and TOP 09, say Mládek is the proverbial lamb led to slaughter ahead of the elections. And ANO leader Andrej Babiš, whom Mládek holds responsible for his downfall, says Mládek’s dismissal is hypocritical since the Social Democrats were never serious about lowering mobile data tariffs.

Now the ball is in the court of Czech President Miloš Zeman, whose prerogative it is to accept or reject the prime minister’s proposal as well as his choice of successor. The hot candidate for the post is Tomáš Prouza, State Secretary for European Affairs and chief coordinator of the government’s Digital Agenda.