Press Review

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The budget, prices, and finances in general seem to, in one way, or another, dominate the stories in today's Czech press, says Olga Szantova, who has been leafing through the dailies for the Press Review.

The headlines on the front page of Mlada Fronta Dnes tells readers that according to the first draft of the 2001 state budget, which has just been published, the state will have to take even more austerity measures, and that includes in education, which was to have been one of the priorities in the Social Democrat cabinet's four years in office. The budget is limited, Mlada Fronta Dnes, writes, and the only solution, the paper says, would be to change the system according to which funds are distributed. At the moment, mandatory expenditures take up nearly 80 percent of the money available, which is far too much.

Another leading daily, Lidove Noviny makes the same point. Its leading story carries the headline: "Zeman's cabinet giving people more and more cash". Social benefits, the paper says, are far too high and during the past year they have been growing faster than salaries. The draft budget seems to be going much along the same lines, and the paper criticizes the minister of social affairs, Vladimir Spidla, for wanting to introduce family benefits for all families, not just for the needy. The minister, on the other hand, is quoted as saying that this is one of the ways of halting the decline in the number of newborn babies, which has reached a record low in the Czech Republic.

One way of solving the state's limited income would be to find means of collecting all the taxes due, but tax evasion is a constant problem, but that's true in other countries, too, says former finance minister Ivan Pilip in an interview published in the daily Ceske Slovo. The state will never be able to collect all taxes owed to it, he says, but a change in the law would help. As it stands now, it is illegal not to declare taxes, but not illegal not to pay them once you have declared them.

The financial situation in state-run enterprises is yet another important aspect of the budget, and Zemske Noviny writes about coming changes in train fares. It will be more expensive to travel by train, but the increase, the paper says, will not be as high as expected. The paper's reporters have been travelling by train and report that on some lines the service is better and the trains are cleaner and more comfortable, but only on some lines. Three Czech companies are ready to supply new rolling stock - as soon as the railways have the money to pay for it, the paper adds.

And, staying on the topic of money, Pravo reports on preparations for a squatters' demonstration to back the rights of beggars to return to the streets in the center of Prague. The police have recently forbidden begging in the historic parts of town, and promise strict implementation of the order during the World Bank meeting in Prague in September, which, of course will deal with financial matters on a very different level.

Author: Olga Szantová
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