Pavel Bém: City Hall gets a facelift
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo by: Petr Poliak
Prague's new lord mayor has divided
the city council into two camps - one hoping for major changes,
the other convinced Bém is just an ODS puppet used to attract votes.
His responses here are revealing.
You are psychiatrist by profession. Why did you enter community
politics four years ago as the mayor of Prague 6?
I have always had the feeling that I should become actively involved
in current events. And following our election losses of 1998 and
the subsequent takeover of the government by the ÈSSD, I decided
to try to help the ODS regain the reins of power.
Did you also see politics as a career-growth opportunity?
Quite the contrary - I returned from a government position as the
general secretary of the Interdepartmental Anti-Drug Commission,
to the daily life of a single community - Prague 6. I decided to
begin my political career from the very beginning, because I didn't
want to fall prey to the fates of some politicians who became overnight
stars in the political firmament with no prior experience with community
Although the right prevailed in the Prague elections, once
again an ODS/ÈSSD coalition is governing. Personal animosities among
the ODS and the European Democrats or the US-DEU apparently won
out over citizens' wishes. Don't you see this as a squandered opportunity?
Yes and no. It's a shame, because today we must face a dramatic
lean to a leftist view. On the other hand, if you look at the individual
parties' platforms for resolving various community problems, you'll
discover that ninety percent of the time they are convergent. The
ODS didn't have much to choose from - Jan Kasl's party was established
a few weeks before the parliamentary elections, and it has no history.
It failed to issue a policy statement or membership base. Furthermore,
the European Democrats define themselves as an anti-ODS party.
European Democrats chairman Jan Kasl said to us: "Pavel
Bém is a nice face on the wrinkled old face of the ODS, which the
ODS used to win voters. But the old gristly core of the Bürgermeister
and Nìmec party will run over him anyway, and he won't be able to
push anything through." He says that the only question is how
long you can hang on. Would you like to comment?
The ODS has many new, ambitious politicians. If you look at the
Prague city council, you'll see that about 75% of its members are
newcomers. You can't run a city of a million with young faces alone,
you need a mix of inexperienced young people and people who are
older, more experienced. So I don't share Jan Kasl's concern that
nothing will change. Although I have great respect for him as a
man, I think that he couldn't manage teamwork, and this led to his
downfall. I have far greater faith in myself in this respect.
Michael Hvíïala of US-DEU told us that parties have their
machinery in full swing inside City Hall, and that it will shred
all rational proposals, with personal animosities overwhelming any
will to solve problems. How will you get anything done in such an
You simply must not start from the premise that everyone is an enemy,
and that everyone around you is an ambitious, amoral politician.
With a team you seek out strengths that you can refine. It's also
important to communicate with your team and not to air your grievances
in the media, as Kasl did. But I'm aware that I'm only one part
of an eleven-member council, and that I must make concessions, because
not all of my party colleagues are allies.
What are your immediate priorities?
As we speak (9 December 2002), I have been Prague's lord mayor for
one week. I see three main priorities right now. First we must create
and stabilize a high quality team and compile a policy statement.
Then I want to simplify an administrative apparatus that currently
has over 2,000 employees, and open it to the public. Thirdly, we
want to concentrate on the accelerated repair of roads following
the floods, the construction of the beltway, and further Prague
What can you do to make City Hall more transparent? For
example, will citizens be able to follow the voting on the city's
According to the law, local government meetings are public. But
city council meetings are not public, because sometimes negotiations
involve matters subject to trade secrecy. On the other hand, I think
the way council members vote and speak should be public knowledge,
because that's the only way we can defend ourselves against accusations
of conflict of interest or preferential treatment. By making City
Hall decision-making more transparent, not only the resolutions
but also the way individual councilors vote will be accessible.
I would like council meetings to be carried on the internet, and
we're even thinking about satellite television transmissions.
Your council members need not disclose their incomes. This
plays right into speculation about corruption. Will you require
your councilors to report their holdings, as prime minister pidla
recently required of his cabinet ministers?
I have no plans to implement a tool that was despised under the
communist regime. Property declarations evoke a false sense of egalitarianism,
and they foster envy. Although I personally made my holdings public
before the elections, I won't force anyone else to follow suit.
However, in the past there has been much talk of corruption
at City Hall. Do you think that setting up the anti-corruption committee
that you announced will solve the problem?
Corruption is a problem with every authority in the Czech Republic.
The best weapons against it are not committees, they are lean state
administration staffs. It would be naive to think a committee could
solve the problem.
But you said you wanted to set up a committee...
(cuts in) ...No, no, no, that's woefully naive. Corruption can be
scaled back only by a leaner state administration, transparent decision-making,
and proper care of officials - their appropriate, individual, and
differentiated financial remuneration. It's true that we undertook
to set up the committee under the coalition agreement, but that
will be the last thing on our agenda. The committee will comprise
both coalition and opposition party members, as well as international
experts that deal with the corruption issue.
life in numbers
||born in Prague, on 18
from the Charles University School of General Medicine,
subsequently working as a psychiatrist at a psychiatric
||executive director of
the Filia Foundation, which assists the psychologically
ill and persons dependent on drugs. Founder and director
of the Contact Center for the Drug Dependent.
general secretary of the Czech Government's Interdepartmental
Anti-Drug Committee. Also coordinated many EU, WHO, and
EC international projects.
||elected mayor of Prague
November - elected lord mayor of Capital City Prague
You claim that Prague suffers from excessive regulation
in the housing market, and from an alleged apartment shortage. Do
you think that when rents are deregulated the market will begin
to move, thus initiating the process of specifying better and worse
There are enough apartments in Prague. The problem is the black
market in municipal rental apartments, and unless the excessive
regulatory measures are lifted there will be no solution. It is
necessary to adopt a law on the regulation and gradual deregulation
of rents. Then there will certainly be categorization of housing,
into the lucrative and the less lucrative.
You have been described as a hard worker who lacks enthusiasm
for the finer details required for putting a problem to rest. How
would you describe yourself?
I recognize several virtues - responsibility, hard work, and fortitude.
I think I solve problems; I'd even say that sometimes I have to
resist becoming entangled in details, but to see the issue as a
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I'll probably be a grandfather and an active athlete, and I'll have
a dog. I'll do work I enjoy that benefits the community.