“I would be pleased if people remembered me as the minister during whose term in office the normal, stable era in transportation constructions began once again.”
Antonín Prachař has been active in the field of transport already since his studies. In 1991, he founded a successful company for international transport and shipping called Omega servis. Furthermore, he used to be the vice-president of the Česmad Bohemia Association, the president of the Transfrigoroute Bohemia company or the chairman Česmad Bohemia’s commission for transport of dangerous goods. He has also experience from the Chamber of Deputies – between 2002 and 2004 he chaired the Transportation Subcommittee.
When you joined the ANO movement in 2012, could you imagine that one day you would become be the head of the Ministry of Transport?
If you bear in mind that the voting preferences of the ANO movement began to increase rapidly only in the second half of 2013, it becomes obvious that at that time I definitely did not expect a government post. By the way, Andrej Babiš told me about my nomination for the minister of transport only a few days before last New Year’s Eve.
Have you managed to keep the visions that you held before you had become a politician? What was the main impulse that prompted you to go into politics?
In the beginning, it did not really occur to us that we could end up in the big politics. Our original motive was to stop the mafia way of governing this country and to prevent people from stealing money from the public budget. As the later development showed, voters responded to this programme and expressed their trust in the ANO movement in the elections. We still respect those original ideals and we are trying to carry them out also in practice.
When you were the vice-president of the Association of Road Transport Operators ČESMAD Bohemia, how did you perceive the Transport Ministry and the ministers? Are you afraid that you will be regarded in the same way as your predecessors?
Naturally, the Ministry of Transport has always been our “opponent“ and we had to fight it when pushing through the demands and opinions of the road transport operators. Ten years ago, I even worked as an advisor to the chair of the Transport Subcommittee at the Chamber of Deputies – this was connected to my position as the deputy chairman of the ČESMAD. Therefore I would like to make both parties respect each other as partners rather than compete.
How detailed had been your insight into the problems of the ministry before you took up the post? What surprised you most during the first days?
As I had spent many years working in a road transport company, I naturally knew most about road freight transport. However, I always had to follow also the development in the other fields of transport in order to keep our company competitive. Nevertheless, I was greatly surprised by the number of neglected issues left behind by my predecessors, as well as the degree to which they had been neglected. Yet we cannot do without the Central Registry of Vehicles, the tachographs or the toll system. We simply cannot afford to let these projects collapse.
If you were to choose three problems that you would like to solve as soon as possible and three that cannot be dealt with during one term in office, which problems would you name?
First and foremost, we need to finish personnel and system changes at the Road and Motorway Directorate so that this public organization can once again operate normally. It is also necessary to stabilise the transport administration departments to eliminate the danger of a collapse. Furthermore, we must speed up and simplify the preparation process of strategic civil engineering projects (i.e. line constructions) to avoid situations where the average time lag between the beginning of the preparatory works and the actual launch of the construction works can take up to incredible 12 years. That is why we have take inspiration from the German act governing line constructions. As regards long term issues, I would certainly need more than one term in office to carry out my vision of connecting the Czech Republic to the transeuropean network referred to as TEN-T, especially in the direction of Austria and Slovakia. Last but not least, the whole of the Czech Republic would finally deserve an alternative connection between Bohemia and Moravia - I am talking about the expressway R35 from Hradec Králové to Olomouc.
What would you perceive as your success as a minister?
Especially speeding up the preparatory works of the constructions that form part of the strategic transport infrastructure, as well as stabilizing the situation in the transport sector after years of incessant changes.
Which items on the Ministry’s agenda have not been discussed yet, although in your opinion, discussion is necessary?
I must say that the media have been paying attention to all problematic areas. At the moment, we are going to discuss the Green Paper, a working document for debate and discussion about the future and structure of public transportation. Therefore we are trying to involve the regions into this process.
Many issues and problems concern several ministries at once. In your opinion, what is the best recipe for efficient cooperation on knotty calls for tenders, investments in the Czech Republic etc.? Information sharing between the “buildings” is sometimes quite complicated.
As regards tenders, in my opinion it is wrong to use price as the only major criterion. I will definitely support efforts aiming to incorporate a mechanism against companies with poor reputation into the Public Procurement Act.
What would you especially like the public to associate you (as the 16th Minister for Transport) with?
I would be pleased if people remembered me as the minister during whose term in office the normal, stable era of transportation constructions began once again.
You have not been in the high politics for long. Nevertheless, has it changed you yet?
I do not think so. However, my current everyday work has definitely been teaching me to be more wary. Not only as regards the media.
Since the preterm elections to the Chamber of Deputies, you have been closely followed by the media. How do you cope with their presence? Did you have to reassess your approach to them?
I am trying to treat journalists as fairly as possible. Yet as we all know, not all people are the same and some headlines sometimes upset me. For instance, I read that Prachař had stopped the Danube – Oder – Elbe channel project, Prachař wanted to introduce toll for passenger automobiles, Prachař had forced people to queue three times etc., while in reality these snapshots are not true.
Due to your previous jobs, the media often mention the possibility that you will favour carriers. Is it possible to avoid such speculations? Or is it simply the price that ministers have to pay for having gained the necessary experience in the private sector and not in the Chamber of Deputies?
I cannot imagine favouring transporters during my term at the Ministry, although I have already felt some pressure from the lobbyists.
As a minister, what are your current greatest pleasures and what, on the contrary, costs you most effort and energy?
When I took up the post, I was fully aware that I would need a lot of energy. I replenish it from glimpses of changes for the better in the transportation sector.
Your colleague Marian Jurečka, the Minister of Agriculture, has made his phone number public, so that discontented farmers can call him. Are you planning offering such possibility also to the drivers?
I do not think that it is the minister of transport’s task to explain himself to every driver who calls him. And by the way, there are substantially more dissatisfied drivers than farmers in our country. However, I have given my phone number to journalists and I am trying to react to their questions.
And the final question: What is your definition of a perfect leader?
As we know from theory, there is no real definition of a perfect leader. Nevertheless, a true leader cannot do without foresight, personal charisma and courage to take risks. In this respect, I have been inspired by leaders from the Baťa family.
Author: Jaroslav Kramer
Translation: Zuzana Halamíčková