Tuesday, April 01

We all work harder for less reward. What about our politicians?


In my previous blogpost I demonstrated how the vast majority of those I mix with are having to work a lot harder and often for less reward. I wonder though whether the same is true of our politicians. Judging by the evidence in Prague, I would suggest that there is no evidence of greater productivity. By 'productivity', I mean concrete delivery of promises, which might in turn encourage us to vote for those responsible.

On the contrary, every day, just by traveling in the area where I both live and work - Prague 6 - I see the evidence of indecision, incompetence, indolence; and widespread public suspicion of much worse. Tunel Blanka; originally to be opened in 2012, now, despite the fact that it is 98% finished, unlikely to open this year; the Metro extension, also delayed until next year, for only vaguely stated reasons; the complete failure to even agree how to connect Prague Airport with the centre by either metro or train; and the fiasco over parking restrictions in Prague 6.

There will be local elections later this year. In Western democracies this usually results in local politicians being more active than usual in responding to active citizens, since they are aware that they will vote, and will discuss their voting intentions with friends. With this in mind, I wrote a letter to the Mayor of Prague 6, Marie Kousaliková, regarding the transport issues above. I did not presume to hold her responsible for all those issues, of course. I wanted her to explain who is responsible, in her opinion. I did however expect her, as the 'guardian' of the interests of fellow citizens of Prague 6, to demonstrate that she is actively seeking to get positive concrete results for us. I attach copies of the correspondence so far. I was surprised and disappointed to find not a shred of evidence in her first reply that she thinks her job is to intervene on our behalf to get these concrete results. The overall message is the classic "co mam delat?". As a result, Mrs Kousaliková and her party should not expect my vote, and I propose that she should not expect it from any of you dear readers who also live in Prague 6.

Some of the issues I refer to are clearly within the remit of City Hall. How should I cast my vote in the context of the performance of the leading politicians there? I do not recall even having the chance to vote previously for Tomas Hudeček. As far as I can tell he has only achieved two things of note. Firstly he has removed a competent professional manager as the CEO of DPP without bothering to explain to me why. This is particularly unfortunate since I was able to compare the concrete results of Mr Kristek against those of Mr Hudeček during the floods last year. However my more serious concern is that Mr Hudeček's 'concrete result' in the case of Tunel Blanka, is simply a further delay in its opening, allegedly to avoid the payment of "extra work" invoices to Metrostav.

I have heard a defence of Hudeček's actions regarding Blanka. It goes like this: The Czech justice system is so dysfunctional that it fails to seek out the the obvious 'heart' of a given crime, and instead responds to 'complaints', often placed by the very people who are at the heart of the crime, in order to distract and divert resources form getting to the heart of the problem. In this scenario Hudeček feared that if he signed off a 2bn CZK overspend, he could face a criminal complaint in the future, probably from a political enemy.

To a foreigner, coming from a country with a robust justice system, this situation is like something from another planet. Quite obviously, the obligation to pay for extra work is a matter of the original contract signed with Metrostav; as is every other aspect of this appalling waste of money. Quite clearly then, any criminal complaint against a politician should be aginst the politician who signed the original contract, and that politician is Pavel Bem, and his party is (still) ODS.

In one sense therefore  I can accept Hudeček's excuse, but my problem is that he has not come out and said explicitly what he fears. I think this shows a lack of courage, and courage is a value which I consider to be a pre-requisite for such a role. Furthermore, TOP09 politicians and their 'affiliated' officials are clearly implicated in the Prague 6 parking fiasco. So TOP09 will not be getting my vote.

What then of ODS? As I have said, Pavel Bém's actions have left a smell of waste and worse which is reminiscent of stories of Chicago in the 1930's. He remains a member of ODS. Bohuslav Svoboda took over from him, and surprised me with his displays of courage. What is his reward? To face criminal investigation regarding Opencard. Once again the investigation is ludicrous because again the Opencard project was developed and signed off under the watchful eye of Pavel Bém. Does ODS stand by the man who is trying to take a stand on behalf of taxpaying citizens. It would appear not. Apparently the new ODS top man in Prague is Filip Humplik. He is interesting because he could be regarded as 'one of our own', having made money by building reputable businesses in the marketing communications field. I would expect him to understand what I mean by "concrete results". Yesterday I actually observed him returning to Prague 6 town hall with Mrs Kousaliková after, presumably, a meeting over lunch. Whether he has any effect on Mrs Kousaliková's responsiveness to her citizens; or whether he alters the ODS team to remove those whose reputation is a stain on the party's record, remains to be seen. I'm not holding my breath.

We have CSSD of course; they have returned Petr Hulinsky and Karel Březina to prominent roles. Mr Březina is a phenomenon. As far as I can tell from his cv, his career consists entirely of being a politician. Quite how you start this career, without first demonstrating that you have done something in your life which qualifies you to represent your fellow citizens, is something I cannot understand. I am sure though that he has never, ever achieved a 'concrete result' which benefits us citizens of Prague. There is no chance I will vote for a party led by such people.

This leads me towards the Green party. I need to establish their exact position on the matters I consider important. Their principles are usually admirable, but sometimes can be Utopian. Probably they think Blanka was a terrible failure as a solution to Prague's traffic problems. I agree. But the thing is built now. So we need it open, and we need it now.

And finally there is ANO. It seems likely that their candidate for City Hall will be Jan Kasl. In 2005 we were in despair about problems with building permission for the extension of our new family home in Prague 6. No one in Prague 6, including the then Mayor, Tomas Chalupa, was prepared to help us. Although we had never met him, my wife decided to email Mr Kasl, noting him to be an architect as well as somebody who had spoken out against corruption. To our surprise, Mr Kasl replied within 24 hours, over a weekend. After first observing that someone was probably waiting for the bribe we refused to pay, he introduced us to an architect who had been sacked by City Hall but 'understood how they think". This architect proposed a ludicrously simple adjustment to our plan (on paper) which overcame objections, and allowed us to get on with the re-construction. That is what I call a 'concrete result'. That is the behaviour of a politician who seeks to 'represent citizens' rather than himself or friends of his party. If Mr Kasl indeed stands, I will need a good reason not to vote for him, notwithstanding my reservations about ANO.

So if you are being held to deliver ever tougher results, under ever tougher working conditions, and wonder why the politicians are not coming under the same pressure to deliver results, remember, they work for you. Contact them and ask them to explain their performance, and then vote according to how you evaluate their performance. This after all, is only what you expect your own employer to do.

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