Jail terms could cost lawmakers seats and salaries in future

The Czech lower house, photo: Filip Jandourek

Recent scandals involving members of the Czech lower house have prompted a response from their colleagues. Lawmakers are now debating legislation that would strip deputies of their salary and other benefits if they are sentenced to jail. The lower house also backed an amendment to the Constitution which would strip convicted MPs of the mandate.

Roman Pekárek,  photo: CTK
MP Roman Pekárek, formerly of the senior coalition Civic Democrats, reported to a prison in Hradec Králové on Monday to begin a five-year sentence for bribery and corruption. Mr Pekárek only became a member of Parliament last November when he replaced another Civic Democrat deputy who had stepped down. But he has become the first member of the Czech lower house to be sentenced to prison during his term.

Under pressure from his colleagues, Mr. Pekárek eventually left the party, though he refused to give up his seat, meaning he will still receive a salary of some 60,000 crowns every month. His case, and those of two other MPs – Vít Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka – who were in the end acquitted of corruption, prompted MPs to come up with new legislation dubbed Lex Pekárek. Civic Democrat Miroslava Němcová is the speaker of the lower house.

“We asked Mr Pekárek to give up his mandate but to no avail. I thought that one of the reasons he decided to retain his mandate was that his income during this parliament would help him pay the fine he got from the court. It seems absolutely immoral to me that taxpayers’ money should be used for something like this.”

Miroslava Němcová,  photo: Jan Sklenář
The bill, tabled by Mr. Pekárek’s Civic Democrats, won backing from all parties in the house, with only one deputy, Social Democrat Vítězslav Jandák, voting against. Mr Jandák argued that an MP can work even behind bars, for instance, by providing assistance and advice to his constituents. Indeed, the fact MP David Rath has been held in custody since last May has not prevented him from authoring six bills he has sent to the lower house.

But lower house speaker Miroslava Němcová came up with another piece of legislation that goes even further. She proposed an amendment to the Czech Constitution that would strip lawmakers convicted and sentenced to prison of their mandate.

This legislation has also been added to the house’s agenda, although some lawmakers and constitutional experts say that before it is approved, some issued should be clarified; for example, it should specify the types of crime to which it would apply. But Ms Němcová says the legislative process has only begun, and there will be time for a through debate over the bill.

The Czech lower house,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“This is an objection that has to be taken into account. But the bill has only passed the first reading, which means its final form is yet to be shaped. If there any major objections from constitutional lawyers, we’ll have to accommodate them. But I believe it’s only natural that someone who swore to abide by the law and broke it should be unable to participate in the shaping of legislation.”

If approved by both chambers of Parliament, the legislation stripping convicted MPs of salaries and other benefits could come into force later this year. Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment will most likely not be adopted until the next parliament.