How to waste public funds

The Minister of Justice earns a fortune as a second job on the Board of Trustees of the University of Miskolc

As chairman of the board of trustees of the Universitas Miskolcinensis Foundation (UMA), Minister of Justice Judit Varga receives 1.4 million HUF per month as compensation – but the institution kept no records of how many hours the Minister worked for the money.

The Universitas Miskolcinensis Foundation (UMA) was created in 2019 to run the University of Miskolc – Varga’s alma mater – after the government introduced a governance model change in the country’s tertiary education system.

The reform saw universities that were previously state-funded become foundation-run. While Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed the move would improve the institutions’ quality and competitiveness, the reform was controversial – the government appoints the boards of trustees to run the foundations, which has a substantial say in the universities’ everyday operations.

By the end of 2021, the model extended far beyond higher education when “public trust funds performing a public function” (KEKVA) started cropping up everywhere. In the first year, these trusts gained control of the country’s biggest educational and cultural institutions, in addition to significant assets worth at least 2.9bn euros, according to Transparency International Hungary.

Hidden privatization: valuable public assets transferred from the state to public trust foundations led by Orbán-allies

By the end of 2021, the Orbán government handed over billions of Forints worth of national assets to semi-private owners, in a wave comparable to the privatizations of the early ’90s. The formerly nationally owned institutions, including companies and universities, were transferred to “public trust foundations” run largely by pro-Fidesz figures, including current government members, who may run them indefinitely without government supervision.

The government-appointed boards of trustees were, unsurprisingly, government-friendly. At UMA, this saw the arrival of Varga as chairman.

Transparency for none

While Varga initially did not accept the monthly remuneration of 1.4 million HUF, her recent assets declaration shows that this changed. After requested the information, it emerged that she had accepted two months’ compensation (2.8 million HUF in total) before September.

Atlatszo submitted a Freedom of Information request to the UMA to ascertain how much work Varga completed in exchange for the monthly 1.4 million HUF. The institution, however, said they do not have any documentation about how many hours their members work for the Foundation or the university.

“The Foundation does not handle this information, nor does it keep records from where the requested information could be extracted,” they responded,

The Foundation’s Executive Assistant Dr Nora Jakab added  that discerning the amount of work done by members is difficult due to the nature of the work.

“A member’s work is not limited to their preparation and attendance at Board meetings,” said Dr Jakab in a statement written on behalf of Varga.

“Minutes aren’t kept at sessions to measure how much work each member does, but to concisely summarize decisions and debates about everyday operations that occur.

“The substantial amount of preparatory and background work that is done by the members cannot be seen in the minutes, or any other documentation.,” she wrote.

“Some issues that are on the agenda every day are discussed in ongoing coordination between the members of the Board of Trustees and the university management, including the Dean and Head of Finance, but also the department heads,” she explained.

She added: “The members of the Board of Trustees participate in university events, professional meetings, ceremonies, openings, inaugurations and other events, and regularly accept professional invitations from the Ministry of Higher Education.

“They carry out the tasks necessary in the interest of the University, whether at home or abroad.”

But while the Foundation may believe it would be impossible to record how much work is done, the absence of minutes becomes problematic considering the large amounts of money in question.

Even beyond Varga, each member receives a 1.2 million HUF monthly compensation. Like Varga, opposition member and Miskolc Mayor Pal Veres only started taking payment for his services this summer, but other members have been accepting their remuneration regularly.

According to the’s September findings, Laszlo Fuko and Erika Kovacs accepted 26.6 milllion HUF, while CEO of ELMU/EMASZ Marie-Theres Thiell has taken up 21.6 million HUF in remuneration from the Foundation.

The money adds up – but, under the UMA’s current system, the large amounts are given and received without any records of how much work is being done in exchange.

Atlatszo’s KiMitTud FOI Request Generator website can be used by anyone to resquest access to data of public information. It covers any institution or individual that carries out public duties or operates public funds.

Written by Katalin Erdélyi, translated by Vanda Mayer. The Hungarian version of this story is available here. Cover photo: Judit Varga / Facebook.