Jan Macháček


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Czech Business Weekly

Subsidies disclosed, and a recipe for failure

09. 01. 2006
The so-called “payment agency” (Platební agentura), which handles the distribution of subsidies to the agricultural sector, last week published a comprehensive list of recipients on its Web site.

The agency, not technically a part of the Ministry of Agriculture, lists both subsidies distributed via the state budget and subsidies from Brussels, granted through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); it also lists the names of individuals along with company names.

Regrettably, individuals’ addresses and identification numbers aren’t provided, so good luck identifying the recipient if his name is a common one, like Jan Novák. But even so, the publication is big news; it shows that the Czech Republic is among the most transparent of European countries in this respect.

Only a handful of countries have made public such recipient lists; most recently, the U.K., the Netherlands and Belgium.

There are at least two good reasons for this disclosure. First, it’s a matter of principle. When public money feeds private business, it should be public information. Second, there’s a real possibility of conflicts of interest arising.

We may expect heavy pressure to remove these names; some powerful people are listed, including former ministers, members of Parliament, and top dogs at pressure groups in the agricultural sector. It’s up to Czech civil society – and journalists – to fight to preserve the public’s right to information.



Tvrdik goes back to politics

Does the Social Democrat Party (ČSSD) want to lose the elections this spring? Could be; there’s no other explanation as to why Jaroslav Tvrdík, the former minister of defense and outgoing president of state carrier Czech Airlines (ČSA), has been tapped to lead the party’s electoral campaign.

Tvrdík’s results at the Defense Ministry were mixed, though not for want of trying. He complained of getting little sleep, an indication that he couldn’t effectively manage his time. Managers should be efficient, not overworked.

Tvrdík’s performance at ČSA is even more troubling. He entered a profitable company, but he’s leaving the carrier with an annual loss of over Kč 300 million (€ 10 million). Yes, he spent some time in the world of business, but he lacks managerial training, and only after joining ČSA did he start to pick up some English (a language a defense minister in a NATO member state should know). The skills necessary to manage a global business are perhaps not so different from those needed to manage a major political campaign.

Jaroslav Tvrdík is not exactly the key to electoral success.

His appointment just shows how much the Social Democrats are hurting for strong personalities. One need only recall the desperately feeble attempt to find a replacement for Martin Jahn, the former deputy prime minister for the economy, when he (a political independent) decided not to be the ČSSD’s election leader for Prague.

Radomír Lašák, who has worked for Komerční banka, eBanka and the power utility ČEZ, has been tapped to take the helm at ČSA. Lašák, an actual manager, will be charged with preparing the state carrier for privatization. But this appointment was also bungled; the boss of such a company should be chosen in an open, international contest. But there you have it. Xenophobic Czech politicians lack the imagination to open their minds and look outside the closed circle for candidates.

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