Transparency in the dark

An international NGO

Here we are again, together, ready to celebrate the lights of Christmas and the joys of togetherness. Let us celebrate then! But before we do, perhaps we should celebrate another, darker kind of light, coming from a much more sinister, but also, much more unlikely source.

Let us first, my Dear Reader, get acquainted with Transparency International!

This highly respectable institution is present and working in more than a hundred countries around the globe; it is an international NGO. Now NGO usually means non-govermental organization, but in this case you may consider it an AGO, an anti-corrupt govermental organization. Transparency is fearless in confronting governments in its pursuit of ”ending the injustice of corruption by promoting transparency, accountability and integrity.” Yes, they do have a website and yes, it explains what they are doing, which is very nice, but there is much more to it than that. And this is what I wish to inform you about today. Because, naturally, we have our own homegrown subsidiary of this internatonal organization. In fact, if there is any country that is the richest soil for this organization to grow on, that is Hungary.

Transparency International (TI) was founded in Germany in 1993; soon, in its wake, the Hungarian subdivision was started in 1995. And it is has been busy as hell ever since. In fact, it is busier than ever. But before I come to the meat of my offering, I would also mention that Transparency International Magyarország, to give it its proper name, is a supremely objective and politics-free NGO. They do not care who is in government, who has what power. They are impervious to any daily politics, they will sue any governmental entity or authority. And most of the time, they win. They are objective and they are fearless. Their objective is eliminating corruption, which may be a bit of a pie in the sky, but nobody is more effective and successful at it than TI Magyarország.

The inner workings of TI are a bit cloudy to me; however, there are minute details on their website about that. I usually hear either the manager, Mr. Peter József Martin, or more frequently the legal director, Mr. Miklós Ligeti. Mr. Ligeti is an unusually skilled speaker, artfully blending obscure, antiquated legal parlance with contemporary vernacular in his speech. He is supremely erudite and witty, not to mention the occasional sarcasm that makes his banter very enjoyable. Beyond these oratorical nuggets, the man is fearsome in his legal occupation and unusually successful in the courts, where he is yanking secrets and documents out of the government’s hands, unveiling the ins and outs of corruption that admittedly are no longer just a feature in Hungary, but the system itself.

In the first seven years of its existence, TI encountered a sufficient quantity and quality of corruption that warranted the publication of a Black Book, summarizing the most egregious ones that occurred between 2010 and 2018. And it amounted to nearly 140 pages. Some of these are still with us, still going on undisturbed. At the time the memory of the ferreting out the profits of the National Bank to the tune of 260 billion HUF, the 170 million HUF cost overrun which the government commissionaire trusted with the whole event, has never accounted for, the reappropriation of the entire tobacco retail trade into the hands of ”friendly” proprietor’s, the sale of settlement bonds to unsavoury elements for the profits to the initiators in the government, the execution of the nation’s leading news paper Népszabadság, and the stuffing of ballots with imaginary parties at the elections, just to mention a few. But the subsequent four short years accelerated the production of noteworthy corruption events, such as: opposition towns are plundered through special economic zones under special legislation, billions of public money for fake parties at the elections, the Orbán family has earned more than 15 billion HUF since 2014, the Orbán hacienda in Hatvanpuszta, 500 billion of Lőrinc Mészáros, the Mátra Power Plant – record profit for Lőrinc Mészáros, and record loss for the state, just to mention a few. Enough to fill another damning book of 180 pages, published in 2022: Black Book II, Corruption and the state capture in Hungary. Both are available free of charge on the internet in Hungarian and in English for anyone who is interested.

And therein lies the rub! Nobody is interested!

Particularly the second volume is blood curdling, because it proves beyond any shadow of a doubt, that while before the 2014 election there was rampant corruption, tolerated and at times encouraged by the State, after that election and ever since, the State is itself primarily occupied with practicing corruption. The Parliament, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Tax Authorities and just about all the known institutions of the State are somehow complicit in this state-run corruption enterprise. In fact, the State to all intents and purposes is functioning as a criminal enterprise, frequently described as a mafia. Amazingly, the Hungarian public does learn about occasional strange events: the disappearance of EU funds into grubby hands, the strange building projects erected for one or the other insider; but no protest, no outcry follows these revelations. The public is set in its belief that corruption is normal, the governing party and its coterie are pretty well entitled to pilfer the public purse. They are walking by, arm in arm, with the European Union averting their eyes, letting it happen; ”it is better to preserve the peace.”

And just recently, TI Magyarország published the third volume: Fehér könyv: Van kiút a rendszer szintű korrupcióból? White Book: Is there an exit from the systemwide corruption? This volume is a bit thinner than its precursors and is not yet available in English. But it is a collection of short essays and an exploration of how, if at all possible, to escape the perpetuum mobile of staggering Hungarian corruption. By advocating one, or an other kind of action to, if I understood it correctly, the conclusion of the book is that the escape and the return to normalcy is possible. This is an unexpectedly optimistic conclusion and one contrary to public opinion and the stance of the opposition.

A new addition to the website of TI Magyarország is a government procurement observer and graphic analysis, called Tenderbajnok. A digest of who is winning government contracts and for how much. This is fascinating to say the least, because in minutes of looking it becomes obvious that the government procurement and acquisition policies are rigged and are corrupt through and through. Unfortunately this page is also waiting for an English version, but because it is mostly made up of graphs and drawings, perhaps az English speaking viewer can also understand some of it.

The public is mired in apathy and resignation, if it at all notices the corruption. And if they do, they are certainly too indifferent to do anything about it, to the extent that even voting is too much of a burden for them. However, for the moment this little bit of optimism is all we have got.

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