Prague - Interior Minister Ivan Langer has once again allocated CZK 18 million to a civic association called Museum of Olomouc's Fortress (Muzeum Olomoucké pevnosti) that is headed by his assistant and the Minister is its honorary member.
The association's task is to renovate a historical landmark downtown Olomouc. Interestingly, most of the funds have come so far only from the state budget thanks to the minister's lobbying.
Slicing of the bear
In something popularly known as "slicing of the bear", which refers to pork barrel politics in the English speaking world, Minister Langer received the third highest amount of money this year.
In the world of Czech politics it is an annual ritual, in which members of the parliament slip various allotment requirements for local projects (in their own constituencies) into the budget draft proposal. This not-so-orderly "carving-up" ritual invites criticism and lots of questions.
Especially since the financial politicking takes place inside the parliamentary budget committee and is uncontrolled, therefore taxpayers' money can be granted to questionable projects, to say the least.
Minister Langer, re-elected deputy chairman of ODS this past weekend, is doing what any other lawmaker is doing; he is trying to get millions from the state budget for projects that are not controlled and verified whether these are the ones Czech taxpayers need most.
Political scientists call this a "hidden sponsoring of political parties". In practice, lawmakers spend taxpayers' money to promote their political activities in their own constituencies and they often commission firms of their friends.
"Don't you appreciate a project that is meant for public welfare? A new renovated landmark will emerge from this project and I am proud of it. So are other celebrities," the minister replied to Aktuálně.cz's question whether he thinks it is appropriate to send the state budget money to his "home-town".
Last year Minister Langer provided CZK 7 million to the association at a time when it hardly existed.
And what more, the historical landmark at that time was still owned by the state. Only later the Olomouc town hall authorities decided they would sell it to the association for the symbolic price of CZK 1. The town hall council is headed by Langer's former assistant, now mayor of Olomouc Martin Novotný (ODS).
No sponsors around
The association staff see nothing wrong with the funds that they received thanks to the political influence of an acting politician.
"In this case I am not ashamed of the political lobbying. These are legitimate means," says association's chairwoman and Langer's former assistant Markéta Záleská. "The state as such grants very little money for the culture sector, therefore historical landmarks deteriorate," she adds.
The association is also planning to apply for grants in Brussels.