Hungary quits Open Government Partnership

Today is International Anti-Corruption Day as well as the ten-year anniversary of the operation of Transparency International Hungary (TI). The government is celebrating in unusual ways: for one, it has quit the Open Government Partnership, an international organization committed to transparency, and second, it has further eased public procurement rules in Hungary.

We have been fighting corruption for ten years. Courageously. And we will not stop.

The Hungarian national branch of Transparency International, which combats corruption across the globe, was established ten years ago. The events of the past decade have given plenty of work to TI, and it seems that we will have a lot to do in the immediate future as well.

“TI assesses the anti-corruption activities of governments, regardless of which parties are in power in the country,” said József Péter Martin, the organization’s executive director. He recalled that in 2008, TI harshly criticized the Socialist-Free Democrat government in power at the time for institutional corruption in Hungary. In turn, the civil organization sees the anti-corruption performance of the second and third Orbán governments as being very weak, due to systemic abuses and the weakening of state institutions meant to control the power of the executive.

In recent years, TI has concentrated primarily on monitoring how public funds are spent and ensuring access to data of public interest. Thanks to its program that has examined 16,000 public procurement proceedings so far, we know that the risk of corruption is present in close to two-thirds of the procurement proceedings in Hungary. It was also the studies of TI that revealed that EU-financed investments are on average 20–25% overpriced, i.e. one quarter of EU funds is lost in the form of corruption and rent-seeking. TI has launched legal proceedings on numerous occasions against state organizations and companies that operate from public funds, with the aim of gaining access to data of public interest. These proceedings, often launched in cooperation with investigative journalists, are successful despite the fact that the government has been methodically restricting freedom of information for years. Lawsuits won by TI have contributed largely, for example, to preventing the HUF 267 billion given to the foundations of the National Bank of Hungary from losing their “public fund character.”

Corrupt countries suffer. We have suffered too.

It is not just TI’s opinion, but also that of foreign investors, or rather, businesspeople who have taken their money elsewhere, that state institutions in Hungary perform badly. According to a World Economic Forum study published this autumn, this is the main reason behind the 15-year decline in Hungarian competitiveness. The Hungarian institutional system placed 114th in the competitiveness ranking, out of the 138 countries included in the study. Businesspeople feel that the government’s decisions are biased and intransparent.

Citizens do not trust state institutions either, because they feel that in Hungary, those in power cannot, or do not want to ensure that everyone has the same chance of overcoming obstacles, and to secure fair competition in the economy. A study published a few weeks ago by TI showed that more than half of Hungarians believe the government’s anti-corruption measures are ineffectual, and 57% feel that corruption is worse than it was four years ago. The lack of trust is also indicated by the finding that only 20 out of 100 Hungarians would report corruption if they encountered it.

This is how the Hungarian government celebrates international anti-corruption day

Public power in Hungary does not like and often does not tolerate criticism. One painful manifestation of this is that just a few days ago, Hungary quit the Open Government Partnership, an international organization committed to transparency. In addition, the government has once again modified public procurement rules, as a result of which from now on construction investments can be ordered from public funds for up to HUF 300 million in value, instead of the earlier HUF 100 million, without a tender, i.e. without open competition. Moreover, the new law allows the government to grant individual exemptions when spending EU funds. Even while without this, it is frequently the case in Hungary that those with good connections win state contracts. That is, whoever is friendly with the government does not really have to compete for orders.

And this is how TI celebrates – contemporary art exhibit and charity auction

TI is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in Hungary by holding an exhibit presenting the works of ten contemporary artists. These works of art reflect on the Hungarian developments and the corruption scandals of the recent past, in the language of art and often with a large dose of irony, while at the same time connecting with TI’s goals of integrity and transparency. The artists on exhibit are: Erika Baglyas, Ákos Birkás, Lőrinc Borsos, Imre Bukta, Ágnes Eperjesi, István Felsmann, Ferenc Gróf, Tamás Kaszás, Csaba Nemes and Péter Szalay.

Integrity and transparency:  the keys to good government

The events of the past decade suggest that governments in Hungary do not bridle, but instead generate corruption. What’s more, sometimes even those state institutions whose original purpose would be checking the power of the executive branch operate as an extended arm of the government. TI believes it is beneficial for there to be a dialogue between the leaders of non-governmental organizations and state institutions on how the country can become a better place. To this end, among other programs, opportunities to strengthen integrity and transparency will be discussed at a conference organized on the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day, with the participation of Tünde Handó, President of the National Office for the Judiciary, Attila Péterfalvi, President of the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, and the director of the State Audit Office.
The opening presentation of the conference will be held by constitutional lawyer Péter Tölgyessy, while a speech will also be given by Gajus Scheltema, the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Hungary.

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