In this week’s Business News: first finance ministry fine for foreign bet; building sector to get substantial boost; water companies angered at regulation move; gold prospectors get ministry brush off; and tourist industry gets slow 2014 start.
The Ministry of Finance has imposed its first major fine for using foreign betting company services which are not registered in the Czech Republic. The fine totalled 850,000 crowns, which is substantial but still short of the 10 million maximum that could have been imposed. The ministry has long been battling the phenomenon of Czechs placing bets on the Internet with foreign based companies which don’t pay any local taxes. A new law is being drawn up which would allow the registration and taxation of foreign based betting companies if they want to operate in the country.
A plan to boost the long suffering Czech construction sector is being hatched by the government. It plans to release around 70 billion crowns over the next five years to promote energy saving alterations to buildings. A large slice of the money could come from European funds. The ministry of industry estimates the spending could create around 21,000 jobs. Some sceptics have warned that the Czech sector has contracted so much in the last five years that it could have problems dealing with such a sizable chunk of new demand.
Water companies have reacted angrily to ministry proposals to put them on a new regulatory footing. Local monopoly water services are currently one of the few public services which don’t come under a specific regulator. The Ministry of Industry and Trade has suggested water be added to the state energy regulator’s competences but companies warn this will add a lot of extra bureaucracy and costs. They add that local councils, which often own water companies, will be deprived of having a say in the final prices. Many councils sold stakes in their companies or sealed long term contracts with foreign utility companies and water costs have risen sharply in recent years.
The Ministry of Environment says that it is seeking to take steps to make sure that prospecting and mining for gold will not take place in the Czech Republic in the future. Around 15 applications for prospecting are currently outstanding at the ministry, mostly for Central and South Bohemia. It’s estimated that around 400 tons of gold could be economically mined in the Czech Republic. The removal of large amounts of top soil and possible chemical treatment methods that could employed to get the gold have resulted in protests from people living near possible mining sites.
The Czech tourist industry has had a sluggish start to the year. The number of Czechs staying in hotels or other accommodation during the first three months fell by 3.2 percent while foreign visitors rose by 1.6 percent, but they stayed for a shorter periods than in the past. Some of the biggest drops in visitors were registered in traditional skiing areas due to the mild winter and shortage of snow. The number of Russian tourists actually increased by 3.1 percent to around 184,000.