Bohuslav Sobotka’s test: One month left to pass Bill on Registry of Contracts

  • A strange voting session occurred in the lower house of parliament not long ago. Voting in unison were deputies for ANO, KDU-ČSL alongside the opposition TOP 09 party and what remains of Úsvit. They were poised against a coalition formed by the ČSSD, ODS and KSČM.
  • The problem was, will there be voting in May on the bill on the compulsory publication of all contracts entered into by all public institutions. The coalition of “old” parties won a postponement till June by a margin of seven votes.
  • If it happens again in June, there will be no chance for the contracts to be disclosed for the duration of the current house.

All depends on the ČSSD in general and PM Bohuslav Sobotka in particular. But for over a year he has played a strange game with the public.

  • 3 July 2014: Sobotka announces that voting on the bill will take place in September 2014. In actual fact, ČSSD then repeatedly worked to cause months-long protractions.
  • 4 March 2015: Sobotka announces that he wants the bill voted on by May 2015. He explicitly said he wants to see the bill passed in the first half of the year, which effectively means the May session when counting in the Senate and the President.
  • 25 March 2015: Sobotka announces that the coalition has agreed on a finalized version of the bill. (In reality, as it showed, there was no agreement at the time about the key parameters of the bill, since the ČSSD raised a last-minute demand that the Contract Register be created and managed by someone else than the Social Democrat-led Ministry of the Interior, which had written the bill and provided auspices to a functional, provisional register of contracts. However, the Coalition working group subsequently agreed a final version of the bill, which coordinator Radek Vondráček presented to the lower house on 27 March.)
  • 29 April 2015: ČSSD votes prevent voting at the May session. Party Club leader Roman Sklenák, who ordered his MPs to vote against, defends himself by saying that nobody told him this was an approved Coalition draft.

The Chamber of Deputies will convene again next week and then in mid-June. It would seem that if, until ten, Bohuslav Sobotka does not explicitly advise Roman Sklenák not to resist voting on the said bill, he will have won his (intentional or unintentional) protraction game.

If the voting on the said bill takes place as late as in September (parliament usually does not convene during the summer recess), we will realistically see the bill on the registry of contractsl become an act in the next election period at best. The bill must be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President; the Ministry wants nine months to implement the Register of Contracts and sanctions voiding an unpublished contract will not be in place for another 12 months after that.

Whatever happens to the bill, we will at least learn much about the present-day ČSSD, come the month of June. We’ll see if there still prevails the antediluvian political mentality which thrives when nobody can see what they are up to. We’ll also see if the more modern part of Social Democracy has the upper hand:

“The only way for a politician is to at least partly resist becoming responsible for something he knows nothing about. To makethe office become transparent. Light is the best disinfectant,” says the Social Democrat Mayor of Nové Město na Moravě, Michal Šmarda, who has long discarded the search for various excuses in favour of publishing contracts and all invoices at his townhall.

P. S. At least we now know, courtesy of Bohuslav Sobotka, that the legislation is really necessary. In March, Sobotka called on the public authorities to publish contracts regardless of legislative delays. But as ascertained by Hospodářské noviny, nothing has happened ever since. Contracts are being disclosed only by those who have done it before.

Note: This article was originally published in Czech and appeared on the blog of Pavel Franc here.