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Subsidies fail to improve environment, audit shows

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Prague, Jan 23 (CTK) – Subsidies for environment protection that the Czech Environment Ministry granted in 2013-15, 9.4 billion crowns in total, have not markedly improved the state of the environment in the Czech Republic, according to a report that the Supreme Audit Office (NKU) released to CTK yesterday.
The NKU concluded that the ministry failed to assess the subsidised projects properly. “The state of the environment and landscape has not improved markedly and in some respects it has even worsened,” NKU spokeswoman Olga Malkova said.
The Environment Ministry rejected the NKU’s conclusion that the state of the environment worsened.
The ministry decided on the finances from the EU funds and from the Czech state budget, namely from the Operational Programme Environment and two national projects.
Despite the subsidies, the arable land area decreased as well as the area of non-fragmented landscape, or habitats that are not discontinued by roads, fences or buildings, the NKU writes in the report. The situation of watercourses is not good either, Malkova said.
But the ministry said the decrease in arable land area and the state of watercourses do not show the general state of environment protection.
The ministry’s spokeswoman Petra Roubickova said the gradual improvement of the state of the environment has been proven by a high number of new specially protected areas. The maintenance of these areas is covered from the Operational Programme Environment, she told CTK.
Roubickova said the return of big predatory animals to Czech territory is another factor showing that the subsidies have been effective.
Thanks to the subsidies, thousands of water bodies have been created, in which rare animals can live, she said. Subsidies went to the protection of particular plant and animal species, the suppression of invasive species and the building of nature trails and restoration of footpaths, she added.
But Malkova said the ministry could not assess the effects of the subsidised projects because it did not set concrete and measurable goals within the subsidised programmes.
Within the new programme period (2014-2020), the goals have been set in a better way, she said.
Malkova said the Czech Republic received the second highest sum in support of biodiversity and environment protection among EU member countries.
The results of the subsidy programmes considerably exceeded the ministry’s expectations, but this was due to the unreasonably low expectations. For example, the ministry said it would grant subsidies to at least 150 projects and it eventually subsidised 2213 projects, according to the NKU report.
Malkova said a 2014 report by the European Court of Auditors revealed similar deficiencies in the work of the ministry.
Roubickova said the ministry cannot rule out negative impacts of many factors on the state of the environment, such as industrial and transport development, and it cannot assess their influence on the goals of the subsidy programmes.
“One therefore cannot deduce from the general state of the environment whether the factors of the programmes were correctly set and whether the programmes were successful,” she said.
Moreover, the effect of most of the investments in environment protection cannot be measured a few months after the completion of a particular project, Roubickova said.
($1=25.414 crowns)

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