Cheap limousines for modest government officials, and how mobile-phone operators are pooling together to fight cell-phone theft. Those are but two of the interesting stories in the Czech papers this morning. Here's Rob Cameron and Libor Kubik with a review of Monday's press.
LIDOVE NOVINY says the government plans to buy up cut-price luxury limousines which carried world bankers around town during last week's IMF meeting in Prague. The government car pool, the paper writes, is now pretty dated, consisting largely of BMWs from the early 1990s. These are now to be replaced by more than 50-million crowns' worth of posh Audi stretch limos. The price to be paid over the next few years represents a significant burden for an already strained government budget but the Cabinet is adamant that it is in fact saving money. Each of the 18 limousines will cost a million crowns less than its standard purchasing price, and they are practically new. The paper wonders what's become of Prime Minister Zeman's promises that the ruling Social Democrats will use only Czech-built cars instead of expensive imports.
PRAVO reports that the country's mobile-phone operators have reached an agreement which would help them fight cellular-phone theft, which is a serious problem in the Czech Republic. As of 2002 the operators will compile a joint list of stolen mobiles and say they will urge mobile-phone manufacturers to supply them with models whose serial numbers cannot be re-programmed. One operator, Radiomobil, told PRAVO that technically gifted thieves can reprogram identification numbers in a matter of hours and then sell the mobile on to the unwary customer. At the moment, people whose mobiles have been stolen have no option but to report the incident to their operator straightaway. The operator will then incapacitate the stolen phone electronically, saving the poor customer at least some of his money.
MLADA FRONTA DNES is worried by the worsening health of today's old-age pensioners. Doctors and geriatric nurses in senior citizens' homes report that today's generation of pensioners is in much worse physical and psychological shape than their predecessors a few years ago. "We're dealing with a generation that has grown old in crammed housing estates built from prefabricated panels," says the director of a pensioners' home in the North Moravian town of Frydek-Mistek. "Now their lifestyle and lack of exercise is taking its toll," he told MLADA FRONTA DNES. The paper notes that the grim reality of life on the housing estate has practically severed bonds between generations and, as a result, children very often neglect their ageing parents. In the old days, generations lived together in family houses and on farms, sharing their problems and helping each other. That's gone now, the paper concludes.
And finally, LIDOVE NOVINY suggests that the fire which gutted Prague's historic Vinohrady Brewery in late August may have been started intentionally, as an insurance scam. The brewery was practically destroyed, and even the shell had to be demolished. The paper quotes usually well-informed sources as saying that the brewery's owner, the Praha Sen company, is a subsidiary of the Israeli firm Africa-Israel Investments Ltd., represented by a Mr. Meir Stambler, who is currently helping the police with their enquiries. The paper says several breweries associated with the Israeli firm have suffered a similar fate, including breweries in Austria, Britain and Hungary. The Prague building was insured for 100 million crowns, or about three million dollars, by the Swiss-based insurer Zuerich. LIDOVE NOVINY notes that 28-year-old Mr. Stambler has unsuccessfully bid in the past for another landmark building here in Prague, the Slavonic House.