Smoothing the way for compulsory purchase of land


On Thursday Parliament approved -in its first reading - a bill which would smooth the way for compulsory purchase of land and property from private owners for projects in the public interest, such as the construction of roads and railways. Although this is an accepted practice in most countries and has been going on for years in the Czech Republic under existing legislation, the bill met with opposition from the right wing Civic Democratic Party.

Daniela Lazarova has been following the story - Daniela why does the existing law need to be amended and what makes the new bill so controversial that the Civic Democrats want to block its passage through Parliament?

"This is an amendment to a law that has been around for more than 30 years now and was used by former communist governments. Obviously, it needs to be amended - not least because it contains an outdated price list for which the government can buy up land which is highly disadvantageous for present day owners. The present bill would give land owners what is considered a fair price, comparable to what they would get if they were to put the land on the market of their own free will. And, I should add, that that would be about ten times more than they are getting now."

So where's the catch?

"The catch is in the definition of the phrase "public interest". This bill does not actually define what public interest can entail and the opposition Civic Democrats fear that this could be abused by the present or future governments, by being stretched to cover whatever the government wanted. For instance, it is no secret that the trade and industry minister Milan Urban would like to see it cover industrial interests.

And also, from what Petr Necas - a senior party official told me - the Civic Democrats are worried about the fact that we could see the communists back in government one day and what they would do with such a legislation.

"We wouldn't like to see this property law abused by a possible coalition between the socialists and the communists. We see this as a grave danger to the fundamental rights of our citizens."

"Another thing that worries the Civic Democrats is that, in its present form, the bill leaves the door open to corruption. In other countries, such as Britain and France, it is the public which decides what is and what is not in the public interest at public hearings but here it would be politicians making that decision."

That sounds like an argument that the two smaller parties in the governing coalition - the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union -would sympathise with. Why did they support the bill, under the circumstances?

"Well, it's all about politics being the art of compromise really. The three party coalition is not very cohesive - it runs right across the political spectrum - so in order to agree on anything at all they have to compromise. A few months ago the two smaller coalition parties blocked a proposed bill on compulsory purchase of land that would have given the government even greater powers. This was a law that the Communists, the third biggest party in parliament, were hoping might be approved. So I think this is a half-way solution that the two smaller coalition parties "just about" found acceptable and I don't doubt that in the course of the next two readings they will try to amend the law further so as to try and remove these loopholes. As the daily Lidove Noviny says in its Friday edition- this is not the end of the road."