Prague - What is mostly known as pork barrel politics in the English-speaking world, gets a rather curious name in the Czech Republic: slicing of the bear ("porcování medvěda").
The annual ritual, in which members of the parliament slip various allotment requirements for local projects (in their own constituencies) into the budget draft proposal has long been ridiculed by the media and even the politicians themselves. Yet, the temptation to score cheap political points seems to be too strong to resist.
How the carving-up works
To be clear, the amount of money, which is distributed in this not-so-orderly manner is less than one per cent of the overall state budget, but it still makes a nice lump, considering the total budgetary sum exceeds one trillion Czech crowns.
It is thus little surprising that the "carving up" ritual always invites criticism and plenty 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.
Besides, deputies then vote on the whole package rather than analyzing each of the individual requests, which makes the whole process even less transparent. Needless to say, this year's budgetary bonanza has been followed by the same old eybrow raising. And for a reason, one might add.
Embroiled in a legal dispute
One of the most generous grants appropriated this year concerns a project threatened, whose very existence depends on the outcome of a legal battle over land-use rights. Therefore it is not clear at all whether the whole project costing 23 million Czech crowns will ever see the light of the day.
The millions were granted to the civic association Sport Club Háje which is planning to build a sports area in Prague suburbs. However, as Aktuálně.cz has learnt, the land the project is supposed to be built on is a subject of a legal fight the deputies allegedly haven't been aware of.
This can force the Ministry of Finance to block the already approved grant. The ministrys's spokesman Ondřej Jakob confirmed the case is being looked into. "The legal pursuit over the land seems to be a problem," he said.
The land in question, near the elementary school in Prague's suburb Háje, is a property of the city district, which originally leased it to company Tenisland. Its intention was to develop the land into a sports area to be used by the neighboring school and by the public.
When the town hall got a new leadership last year, the contract was repealed and the land was leased to another company named Matchpoint. Its owner Roman Medvíď now heads the public association to which the grant was given.
Tenisland, the original renter, turned to a court to get the land back. The company believes the town hall's cancelation of the contract was unjustified, because it was signed for a specific period until the year 2025.
However, Dalibor Mlejnský, the Mayor of the eleventh district of Prague, which Háje is part of, believes the lawsuit will eventuallly be won by the city.
The question remains unaswered though, why nobody has informed the members of the parliament about the ongoing litigation. In a typical fashion, no MP wants to be publicly associated with the case.
The whole situation thus only serves to prove - once again - how absurd the annual pork barrel (or bear-slicing) spending festival is.