New trade minister appointment stirs controversy

Martin Kocourek, Martin Kuba, Petr Nečas, photo: CTK

President Klaus has appointed Civic Democrat Martin Kuba to head the ministry of Trade and Industry, following the resignation of Martin Kocourek last week. Though Mr Kocourek’s tenure ended amid allegations of corruption, the new minister was clearly not chosen on the basis of a controversy-free political history, as Christian Falvey reports.

Martin Kocourek, Martin Kuba, Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
President Václav Klaus officially named Martin Kuba to head the Czech Ministry of Trade and Industry on Wednesday, consummating a somewhat surprising pick on the part of Prime Minister Petr Nečas. It was, in fact, only last year that Mr Nečas rejected Mr Kuba from the top leadership of the Civic Democratic Party due to his close ties to the oft-reviled but nonetheless intransigent “godfathers” of the party. Then, at a conference of the Civic Democratic Party, Mr Nečas actively opposed Mr Kuba becoming a deputy chairman, saying it would be not be good for one of the architects of South Bohemia’s grand coalition to be running the party. Kuba had been championed for the position by the influential entrepreneur Pavel Dlouhý, who many consider the grey eminence of the party’s South Bohemian chapter.

Ultimately Martin Kuba’s sway in South Bohemia may have been a decisive factor in his attaining the post. For one thing, there is the subject of the completion of the Temelín nuclear power plant, which is playing out in his domain. Speaking to the daily Mladá fronta on Wednesday, Mr Kuba conceded that he had discussed this point with the prime minister, and that his pro-nuclear position and work on development issues in South Bohemia may have played a role in his selection. Where natural speculation as to politicking is concerned, some analysts have also considered the fact that with the selection of Martin Kuba, Prime Minister Nečas seals up support in an important region.

Michal Doktor, photo: CTK
In appointing Mr Kuba officially to the post, President Klaus stated that what the state needs at a time of economic crisis is a strikingly active ministry of industry that competes for foreign markets. The new industry minister is not an old hand at foreign trade, but the same goes for many of the men in cabinet at the moment. A physician by training, Mr Kuba’s personal work experience has involved franchising the Fornetti chain of pastry shops and his own company, called Fruit Frog. Working under the Social Democrat governor of South Bohemia his work has involved European funds, zoning and transport investments.

Critics of the government and the Civic Democratic Party will be largely unimpressed with the choice of Martin Kuba as industry minister. Most prominent of his initial opponents is the man who many considered a safe bet for the position, MP Michal Doktor. A Civic Democrat of 20 years, Mr Doktor officially withdrew his membership from the party on Wednesday, hard feelings seemingly intact. Doktor, who is also from South Bohemia, called the Prime Minister’s decision not only bad, but tragically bad. While he did not intend to vote against the government necessarily, he said that if the prime minister does not find a lesson to be learned through all the people who have been stung by Martin Kuba in his region, then he must part ways with him.

Others have decried Mr Kuba as a long arm of the aforementioned Pavel Dlouhý, while some media have rehashed his involvement with the controversial company PSM, which was accused of drawing investors into a Ponzi-type scheme in the 1990s.

Martin Kuba, photo: CTK
The controversial Martin Kuba thus replaces Martin Kocourek, who resigned last week in the face of corruption allegations. In seeking to substantiate the source of 16 million crowns credited to an account of his mother, Mr Kocourek said he was merely trying to “divert” the money from his divorce settlement – a rationale that was not to many people’s liking. Mr Kuba’s appointment was therefore not apparently designed to restore public trust in the cabinet. As with the recent appointment of a Nečas ally to the Agriculture Ministry, it seems it was more a tactical move.