MPs reject lobbying legislation

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Deputies of the lower house on Wednesday rejected a bill designed to curb lobbying. While many deputies agree that the issue needs to be addressed, only a few are willing to support legislation that would set down transparent rules for influencing political decisions.

The first ever attempt to regulate lobbyism in the Czech Republic’s lawmaking process has failed. The lower house of the Czech Parliament on Wednesday rejected a bill aimed at bringing these activities under control. If approved, the bill would have required lobbyists to register with the Interior Ministry and to report on any contacts they had with lawmakers. For their part, MPs and Senators would have to report any contacts with lobbyists. But the lower house returned the bill for redrafting, arguing the measures it would have introduced were too ambiguous. Jeroným Tejc is a Social Democrat MP and one the authors of the rejected bill.

“I was not only disappointed but also surprised. The debate we had in the house was relatively constructive, and it seemed that the draft would be admitted for further discussion in the committees. I was really surprised that there were so many MPs who voted to return the bill for redrafting. That’s very similar to downright rejecting the bill, only perhaps a little more subtle.”

Mr Tejc also noticed that those who supported the motion had in the past voted in favour of corporate interests.

“I was also surprised that the same group of MPs who rejected the bill, had voted in the past against stricter rules on gambling. I’m sorry about the way it turned out but we will still try to push this or a similar bill though the lower house during this term.”

Gambling was one of the issues on which lobbyists managed to influence the decision-making process. Another had to do with anti-smoking legislation. When the country’s anti-smoking law was amended in July, it in fact failed to restrict smoking in public spaces. The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Thursday that representatives of three international tobacco corporations – Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco and House of Prince Czech – actually work as assistants to members of parliament, and enjoy unlimited access to lawmakers. Prague-based American journalist Erik Best says this practice would be unacceptable in established democracies.

“I think it’s not only a problem for Parliament as such, but I think it must be a problem for the company that the person works for. I don’t see how a respectable Western company can allow something like this to happen.”

Mr Best considers the rejected bill a good first attempt to regulate lobbyism. And he says that MPs voted against it because they just don’t want the practice to end.

“On the one hand, people are trying to grab what they can while there is still time to do it. But on the other hand, they are fearful of what might come later. And I think that’s why we see hesitance on part of MPs to approve lobbyist legislation. In general, this is something that as some point you would think would come under the purview of international organizations. But so far, they don’t seem to have had much of an effect on the behaviour in the new democracies.”

Meanwhile, MP Jeroným Tejc is planning to organize a seminar in the lower house on the issue of lobbying so that all parties have a chance to voice their objections and proposals. If they agree, the bill could be drafted by the Justice Ministry. Mr Tejc hopes the bill could be ready by the end of January. If not, the issue will remain unresolved during this Parliament’s term in office and lobbyists will have the run of the lower house for many more months to come.