Politicians in hot water over mixing business with fun and games

Alexander Vondra

Politician’s perks are perceived as a problem in most countries, and there’s often a thin line between perks and abuse of power. In the Czech Republic, a country where for 40 years the communist big wigs did exactly as they wished without being held accountable for their actions, people are extremely sensitive to any form of abuse of power or position. And politicians are closely watched whether they happen to be skiing in the Alps or attending a football match.

Alexander Vondra
When Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek ended a working visit to Sofia last week and boarded a Czech government plane for Innsbruck – where he was later seen enjoying himself on the ski slopes – little did he know that this was a flight he would have to explain during a stormy question-and-answer session in Parliament. The media and the opposition challenged him about wasting taxpayers’ money to finance his little skiing holiday in the Alps and the prime minister’s proffered explanation - a meeting with the Czech ambassador to Austria Jan Koukal - failed to ring true. As the media pointed out Mr. Koukal went out of his way to satisfy the prime minister’s whim. It is just 270 kilometers from Vienna to Prague, but 480 from Vienna to Innsbruck.

No sooner had this scandal died down Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra embarked upon his own little outing. Incidentally also returning from Sofia, he asked the government special to land in Bucharest – ostensibly for two important meetings which just happened to coincide with a Champions League match in which the Czech team Slavia took part. The deputy prime minister’s official web-site contained no information about planned meeting in Bucharest and soldiers from the Prague-Kbely Airbase that is in charge of government flights said they had only learnt about the flight to Bucharest in Sofia. They asked Lidove noviny, which reported on the story, not to reveal their names.

A field day for the opposition one might think. However the opposition is not in a position to throw stones - opposition leader Jiri Paroubek’s driver is said to have broken traffic rules all the way from Prague to Marianske Lazne recently as he drove his boss to his wedding. The transgressions are well documented by the press but Mr. Paroubek claims he was fast asleep at the time. For the Czech public all this is a sign that the term “arrogance of power” – an expression widely used in connection with the communist elite – still applies. The majority of Czechs feel that politicians make enough money not only to pay for their holiday travel but to forgo perks such as free city transport. People are grumbling but a group of practical jokers has taken a different tack –it has tried to embarrass MPs by organizing a collection in aid of those who are too poor to ‘pay their way’.