The floods won't change the essentials of politics

PRAGUE – Every new day convinces us that it will be a long time yet before we know the final cost of the damage and losses caused by the present floods. The deluge has not finished yet and its results in terms of the repair of damaged buildings, roads, bridges and so on will take a long time to make themselves felt. The damage done to industry, agriculture and other branches of the economy will also take a long time to calculate.

The direct and indirect consequences this time will be far greater than in the floods of 1997. The work of repairing the damage must be done better than it was then.

The priority must undoubtedly be to return life in the flood-stricken areas to normal. This means ensuring that citizens have homes and are supplied with water, electricity and gas. Another major task will be to get the transport system running again. And this could also involve huge long-term problems, especially the long-overdue repair and maintenance of bridges, while in the case of the Prague Metro no one knows yet exactly what has happened and what kind of damage has been done. A whole number of other rebuilding projects will be more long-term.

Everything will be complicated by the fact that, even before the floods, our economy was approaching a very critical state. For a number of years we have been living beyond our means by borrowing money and selling off national assets. The new government’s program, approved a few days before the catastrophic floods began, failed to take account of the real economic situation or propose steps to rectify it. The floods of course will not change this situation, but they could be the famous “last drop” before the cup of the bankrupt policy of transformation “overflows.”

Unfortunately, the statistical data confirming this will take several months to appear. It is difficult to advise the government what it should do. It would be good if, at the same time as an immediate start is made on repairing the flood damage, it radically reviewed its previous economic policy with an emphasis on preventing further run-down of the economy and establishing the priorities needed to return the economy to growth.

This would also mean abandoning its present draft state budget for next year and preparing a new one that would not only increase revenues but ensure that they are used rationally and effectively. The same goes for various state fund budgets and the budgets of regional and other local authorities.

The “bazaar” approach to economic management, in which every state asset is sold off for a song, could be replaced by an approach in which assets at every level are used for real economic development.

National and local government budgets are losing tens of billions of crowns in revenue as a result of inadequate control mechanisms and the boundless trust placed in auditors and advisers of every kind. It is high time that ministries, regions and town halls began to work professionally and local councils began auditing and controlling their own books. This should be made an issue in November’s Senate and municipal elections. The floods really will not change the essentials of politics, but they could be one of the impulses towards positive change.

From the Aug. 16 Czech Left daily Halo Noviny.