Saturday, 19 April 2014

Churches ready to talk with gov't on compensation through bonds

ČTK |
17 January 2013

Prague, Jan 16 (CTK) - Czech religious communities are ready to debate yesterday's government proposal that financial compensation within the law on the return of church property confiscated by the communists be paid out to them partially or fully in the form of state bonds, CTK has found out.

"It must not be disadvantageous for churches. If it is advantageous for both sides, as (Finance) Minister (Miroslav) Kalousek says, we are ready to discuss it," Tomas Holub, Czech Bishops' Conference (CBK) secretary general, told CTK yesterday.

Joel Ruml, Ecumenical Council of Churches chairman, said on Czech Television (CT) yesterday he thinks the bonds would be acceptable for churches, but he would not speculate about how advantageous for churches they would be.

He said, however, the proposal surprised him because it was not mentioned throughout the previous negotiations between the government and churches.

The Culture Ministry told CTK that Kalousek (TOP 09) offered the idea already during the negotiations of the government commission for state-church property settlement in 2011 and it was also discussed at meetings between the government commission and church representatives.

The opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) said the issuing of special bonds for church restitution is a policy "after me, the deluge."

"Mr Kalousek will issue five- or ten-year bonds and they will be repaid when he is in old-age retirement. This means, he will help his budget yesterday and will leave the burden of what this government has decided to the future (politicians)," CSSD deputy chairman Lubomir Zaoralek said.

Prime Minister Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) said after yesterday's government meeting the state will not force the idea on anyone and that the bonds would always be applied as a result of agreement with a particular religious community or church.

He said the bonds may be more advantageous for some churches because they would not have to be thinking about where to deposit the money or how to manage it.

Under the restitution law, churches are to get real estate worth some 75 billion crowns from the state on condition they prove their title to it.

Some 59 billion crowns are to be paid for real estate owned by municipalities, regions and individuals that cannot be returned to the churches.

This will make about two billion crowns annually plus inflation.

The ministers were informed yesterday about the form of the planned agreements with churches, in which it will be stated among others that churches are giving up any further claims towards the state as a result of the property settlement.

Every church that will apply for property return must sign the agreement by end-September.

Ministers were told yesterday that the form of the agreement is being prepared in cooperation with the culture and finance ministries and representatives of churches.

The draft agreement mentions the possibility of the annual instalment of the financial compensation or its part being settled via state bonds.

Economist Jiri Schwarz said on CT yesterday the churches might, for instance, pledge to buy state bonds for 55 percent of the planned annual compensation, or for one billion crowns.

This would decrease the expenditures of taxpayers who would otherwise pay the financial compensation to churches, Schwarz said, adding that this would help Czech public finances.

Churches and religious communities can apply for the return of their property until the year's end.

($1=19.207 crowns)

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