Czech programmers counter costly state deal with free app

Sixty programmers in Prague have created and launched an IT system selling virtual motorway toll stickers, in a move to protest an overpriced government contract, organisers said Sunday.

The Czech government of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis initially struck a 401-million-crown (16 million euros, $17.6 million) deal with the Asseco Central Europe company to supply the IT system.

But the price led entrepreneur Tomas Vondracek, the head of a Prague-based IT company, to mobilise programmers from home and abroad and offer the government a new IT system for free.

“We were led by a desire to stand up against the system overpricing government contracts, abusing the ignorance of the client and resulting in our money going down the drain,” Vondracek told reporters on Sunday.

Asseco got the four-year deal without an open tender.

The contract led to Transport Minister Vladimir Kremlik losing his job on Monday, and Asseco then said it was willing to pull out of the deal without demanding any compensation.

The free IT system comprises two e-shops and mobile Android and iOS apps with links to a payment gate, enabling drivers to get virtual stickers instead of regular vignettes currently placed on the windscreen.

The system is also available in several languages including Slovak, Polish and Spanish, owing to volunteers abroad, said Vondracek.

“We also have an offer for a Japanese version. If someone drives from Japan to the Czech Republic, they can buy a sticker in their native tongue,” Vondracek chuckled.

Babis said the government would use the system if it passes tests, adding it would announce a tender for a company that would run it.

“I think we can see a way to launch it… by December 1,” said Vladimir Dzurilla, the government’s chief digital officer.

Babis became prime minister after his ANO movement had won the 2017 general election with an anti-corruption campaign.

But the Slovak-born food, chemicals and media mogul and the fourth wealthiest Czech according to Forbes magazine is himself facing police charges over an alleged EU subsidy fraud and an EU probe into his dual role as a politician and entrepreneur.