Resignations put ODS in full command as the accusations fly
Prague City Council is now under the complete control of the Civic Democrats (ODS) after two council members resigned claiming the council is ignoring potential corruption, is noncooperative, tolerates strong-arm tactics by powerful department heads and indulges in political favoritism.
The ODS has an absolute majority in the 70-seat Prague assembly and is now the sole party on the 11-seat council.
The resignations of Deputy Mayor Markéta Reedová, of the Independent Candidates Party of European Democrats and Petr Štepánek of the Green Party (DZ), who was in charge of environmental issues, means that one-party rule has returned to the capital just a month after the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution brought thousands of people onto the streets to celebrate democracy.
“It is worrying that, 20 years after 1989, we have one-party dominance in Prague again,” Petra Kolínská, Green Party spokeswoman, said.
Štepánek said he resigned because the ODS was non-cooperative in council dealings.
During an interview with The Prague Post on her last day in office, Reedová, accused the ODS of blocking her anti-corruption program – especially over the OpenCard, the multipurpose travel card that is used for, among other things, a transit pass. A recent audit of the OpenCard program found millions of crowns unaccounted for.
Her stance on the OpenCard, coupled with her anti-corruption strategy of making the council more transparent and accountable, sealed her fate, Reedová said.
“I know my colleagues on the council did not like my criticism or comments, especially regarding the OpenCard,” she said. “There was a meeting of the ODS assembly and council members, and they decided they wanted me replaced. The signal was clear. It was impossible my anti-corruption strategy would go through.”
Twice, Reedová submitted an anti-corruption draft strategy to the council, and twice, in May and June, it was rejected without an adequate reason being given, she said. “They used arguments like it needed to be discussed in some committee or another, but it was just delaying tactics.”
The failure to introduce the strategy or have it seriously considered and debated “is the main reason” why she submitted her resignation, Reedová said. “It’s unacceptable for me to sit on the council and know I can do nothing.”
Falling on deaf ears
All-powerful council department heads refused to acknowledge that corruption might even be a problem, she claimed, and continuously ignored her.
“The heads of the departments didn’t even want to hear there was the potential for corruption, and they did not want to provide information – even to me,” she said. “I asked for information, but department heads seemed more powerful than me.”
Reedová accused fellow council members of being intimidated by the department heads to reject the anti-corruption plan.
Reedová also claims internal ODS matters are hijacking council business to the detriment of the public who elected the council.
“Within Prague ODS, there are internal fights, and they spend more time on their own problems than working for the public interest,” she said. “That will not surprise the public; it is obviously apparent.”
One-party control of the council is bad for democracy as it stifles debate and allows the council to dish out favors to political friends and allies, she said.
“Most of the decisions were already made by one party, but we could influence certain areas. But, now, there won’t be anyone to criticize or discuss things,” she said. “One reason they want the council in their hands is so they can indulge in favors to allies and friends even though the residents of Prague have paid for it [with taxes].”
One of the key planks of her anti-corruption strategy was more independent auditing, a policy that is vital after the OpenCard scandal.
“Control mechanisms need to be more independent. For example, external audits in departments should be done every year, not after three years like [was done with] the OpenCard,” Reedová said.