Thursday, 17 January 2019

Lower house backs moves curbing ministers’ business interests

ČTK |
15 September 2016

Prague, Sept 14 (CTK) - The Czech Chamber of Deputies passed an amendment toughening the conflict of interests law including some restrictions of ministers' businesses that are evidently aimed at Finance Minister and billionaire Andrej Babis (ANO) yesterday.
The bill preserves the possibility for members of a government to control business companies, but such companies would not have access to public procurement or non-mandatory state subsidies.
It also bans future members of governments from running television and radio broadcasts and issuing periodical press.
The bill will now be discussed by the Senate, the upper house of parliament.
The bill was supported by 135 of 183 deputies present. Thirty-nine lawmakers voted against it, mostly the deputies for ANO and a few unaffiliated deputies.
Babis, the second richest Czech who owns the giant food and chemical Agrofert Holding including the Mafra publishing house and the Impuls radio station, excused himself from the lower house session yesterday. Nevertheless, he was present in the Chamber.
In the morning, the lawmakers passed some proposals toughening the present law, and rejected others in separate partial votes.
Before the final vote early in the afternoon, ANO deputies' group chairman Jaroslav Faltynek thanked the deputies for letting common sense prevail to an extent at least by rejecting the proposal to ban ministers from owning property.
Faltynek also said it is at odds with the rule-of-law principle if bills are passed against a single person, which is also why ANO would not support the law.
The provision banning ministers from owning media was proposed by lawmaker Jan Chvojka (government Social Democrats, CSSD).
It is to only apply to newly appointed government members.
According to the bill, a government member would have to terminate the operation of a television or radio station or the publication of periodical press, or possibly leave the operating or publishing firm of which they would be members within two months of joining the government at the latest.
If such a government member failed to leave the firm, they would lose voting rights in it.
The restriction is also to apply to future lawmakers, senators, some regional and municipal politicians as well as other public officials.
The provision, under which firms in which a government member would have a 25-percent stake at least would not have access to public orders, subsidies and investment incentives, was proposed by opposition deputy Martin Plisek (TOP 09).
These restrictions would be applied as soon as the amendment took effect, which is supposed to happen in January.
In other partial votes, however, the Chamber of Deputies rejected Chvojka and Plisek's proposals to ban the control of business firms by ministers. They were opposed even by the CSSD and TOP 09 lawmakers, which TOP 09 chairman Miroslav Kalousek explained by his party's fear for the fate of the whole bill in the crucial final vote.
The government of the CSSD, ANO and the KDU-CSL has promoted the closely watched draft amendment to the conflict of interests bill, which also includes a number of other new provisions, as a part of its anti-corruption crusade.
The bill also introduces the duty for politicians, and also judges and state attorneys, to submit property statements upon their entry into politics.
The vote was preceded by a two-hour debate in which deputies for Babis's ANO argued against the proposed restrictions of ministers' businesses as a proposal on the verge of running counter to the constitution or even beyond the limit.
The proposals aim to prevent the entry into politics by the people who have been successful, Faltynek said about some proposals evidently targeted at Babis.
"The [proposals'] only triggering mechanism is Andrej Babis," said ANO deputy Radek Vondracek.
Jiri Mihola, who heads the government Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) group of deputies, said he disagrees with the new bill being dubbed "Lex Babis."
The issue of ministers' businesses should have been resolved long ago, he said.
Petr Gazdik, lower house deputy head for TOP 09, mainly spoke about ministers' owning media.
"It is impossible for the public opinion to be influenced by a high-ranking politician," Gazdik said.
Pavel Kovacik chairman of the opposition Communist (KSCM) deputies' group, called the result of the partial votes on particular provisions embarrassing and toothless.
Nevertheless, even a small progress is a progress and positive aspects have prevailed, Kovacik said.

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