EU funds

Half a million HUF each step: see the itemised costs of the infamous treeless canopy promenade

Átlátszó has obtained the supporting document detailing the costs and the invoice issued by the contractor of the infamous canopy promenade, a construction funded with EU taxpayers’ money, brought to life by Mihály Filemon, the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva. We created a 3D model of the canopy promenade, so that anyone can take a virtual walk along it and see how much of the gr. HUF 64 million EU grant has been spent on individual facilities. With the numbers, we were finally able to calculate how much one step on the walkway cost EU taxpayers. We also found out that the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva and the Fidesz MP for the region signed the contract for their own canopy walkway on the same day, with the same contractor.

Until now, it was not known how much it exactly cost to build the canopy promenade in Nyírmártonfalva, only the price of the complete project was known. In addition to the promenade, a playground, a shelter, a country house, sports equipment and a toilet that can only be locked from the outside were also built on the private land of Fidesz mayor Mihály Filemon.

Up until now, it was only known that Mihály Filemon had won an EU grant of a gross of HUF 64 million from the Széchenyi 2020 Rural Development Programme, to which the mayor had added a gross of HUF 16 million of his own funds. The EU grant supporting document containing the detailed costs and the partial invoices issued by the contractor, HCInternational Ltd. has just recently been obtained by Átlátszó.

A press correction lawsuit that also gave us the numbers

After our article on the canopy promenade scandal, Mihály Filemon sued Átlátszó for not complying with his request for correction, but he lost the case in the first instance on 12 May. In order to prove the length of the canopy walkway he had built, the mayor sent the court the supporting documents for the tender and the invoices paid.

He thus willingly/unwittingly shared the documents with Átlátszó, the defendant as well.

These documents contain details of how much each building in the project was expected to cost when the grant was awarded and how much the contractor was ultimately paid to build it.

Mihály Filemon’s lawyer said at the hearing that it is a primary aspect how much EU money the promenade costs per metre, so the length of the promenade is of such importance. According to the lawyer, our article makes it feel as if EU money is being squandered.

Unforested canopy trail: the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva sued Atlatszo for corrections and an apology – English

After the publication of our story about his EU-funded canopy walkway built in a clear-cut forest, the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva, Mihály Filemon, has requested corrections through his legal representative. Since we quoted the data he objected to from public records, and the mayor did not respond to our requests for information before the publication of our story, we did not comply with his request.

Half a million HUF each step

According to the supporting document, this 80-metre-long structure accounted for 80 percent of the tender costs, costing a gross of HUF 64,434,714, of which the EU grant was a gross of HUF 51.5 million.

Part of the supporting document

In knowledge of the price and the dimensions, it is finally possible to calculate how much this completely pointless unforested canopy walkway cost EU taxpayers:

a gross of HUF 644,347 (approx. gr. 1711 EUR) per metre.

So be careful how big you step here, because a bigger step (which is about 80 centimetres) already comes to half a million forints.

The invoice detailers of the phase invoices show the order in which each item was constructed. According to the list, the canopy walkway was not completely finished until the 50 percent completion: the trail’s walking surface and railings are not mentioned in any of the papers, presumably they were put in place later and invoiced later. However, the other structures included in the project were completed at the beginning of the construction works and the construction cost of these works is therefore fully certain.

How much did the canopy walkway actually cost?

How much did the canopy walkway actually cost? Átlátszó’s virtual tour of Nyírmártonfalva’s most famous landmark in Hungary Krisztián Szabó, Szilvia Zsilák Nyírmártonfalva is a small Hungarian village, 16 km from the Hungarian-Romanian border and 260 km from Budapest. It’s almost a three-hour drive from the capital to visit the famous investment of Mihály Filemon, the local mayor.

First, let’s look at the overall framework of the canopy walkway as described in the supporting document:

  • gr. HUF 26.4 million for carpentry work – 40 percent of the cost of the canopy walk;
  • The budget for the installation of joinery was gr. HUF 22.2 million;
  • gr. HUF 13.3 million for the preparation of substrates, cold and hot tiling;
  • For clearing, earth and rockworks and flatwork (concrete), the gross amount was HUF 2.6 million.

Invoices of the canopy promenade. Source: Átlátszó

If we compare this with the available invoices for the canopy promenade, we can see that the above work figures include the cost of materials. So unfortunately, it is impossible to calculate exactly what price was used for timber.

Earth and rockworks and flatwork:

  • gr. HUF 2.6 million.

For structural preparations, these items are included:

  • Construction of 18 walkway support structures with bracing and fasteners from 4 m long pine units: gr. HUF 15.2 million, gr HUF 846,000 each (timber volume: 0.13 m3/piece, 2.55 m2/piece)
  • 21-pole pine support structure, with bracing and fixing: gr. HUF 6.1 million (wood: 1,43 m3/piece)

Cost of stairs with railing:

  • gr. HUF 5.6 million.

The price of the foundations, load-bearing and staircase structure is known, but the invoices for the walkway are still missing. So far, a total of gr. HUF 29.6 million has been invoiced for the walkway itself, with the missing gr. HUF 34.9 million still to be spent on the walkway railing and planking, among other things.

During our first visit, we pointed out a number of construction and design deficiencies. Despite the fact that on paper the project should have been finished, there was no toilet, the roof of the country house had been blown off by the wind, the wood had not been treated and the steps of the promenade were not properly supported – so the wood were already cracked in some places. Since then, Mihály Filemon has finished the toilet in haste, fixed the roof and treated the walkway. According to the tender, the mayor is only obliged to maintain the project for five years to avoid having to repay the grant.

Over 10 million for forest facilities in the middle of the nothing

The itemised costs of other works listed in the supporting documents are, at all points, roughly the same as the aggregate costs of the items listed in the invoices. These gross amounts are indicated in the supporting documents:

  • 27 square metre country house: HUF 2,723,855;
  • 31 square metre shelter: HUF 2,807,975;
  • one toilet: HUF 471,170;
  • forest excursion site: HUF 5,987,009.

Country house, with the shelter in the background, a total of gr. HUF 5.5 million

The invoices list the items relating to the forest excursion site in a little more detail, and the prices are also gross:

  • country house: HUF 2,742,184;
  • shelter: HUF 2,840,609;
  • two toilets: HUF 474,910 each;

Toilets for gr. HUF 1 million in the middle of nothing

  • ten bike racks: HUF 189,230 (approx. 80 x 80 cm, made of acacia, U-shaped)

Bike rack for approx. gr. HUF 200,000

  • a two-tower play castle with a swinging bridge for HUF 1,239,139, an obstacle course for HUF 787,400, a combined fitness line for HUF 662,686 and a combined stretching bench for HUF 683,895.
  • four fire pits for HUF 789,178, each of which costs HUF 197,294 – originally planned to have an internal diameter of 80 cm, made of stone with a concrete base.
  • 4 interactive information boards, which no small child can reach: HUF 1,175,512, each for HUF 293,878 – originally planned 140 x 100 cm.

Sport equipments and the playground

Nevertheless, we did notice a few interesting discrepancies. According to the invoices, the total cost of the elements included in the construction of the “forest hiking trail” was a gross of HUF 5,527,040, which is gr. HUF 459,968 less than the amount specified in the supporting document. In addition, in the supporting document, one toilet was given a separate line in the costs, but if the price of the second toilet is added to the “construction of a forest hiking trail” item, we reach the same approximate price specified in the supporting document (with a difference of gr. HUF 14,941).

According to the supporting document, the remaining cost of the gross budget of HUF 80 million was spent on other preparatory works (e.g. public procurement procedures), totalling a gross of HUF 3.4 million.

Applications signed on the same day

We also prepared a timeline of the canopy walkway in Nyírmártonfalva, which revealed new suspicious facts. As is known, not 1 but 3 canopy walks were built in the area. The other two were built in Nyíradony by Fidesz politicians – one of them being none other than László Tasó, a Fidesz Member of Parliament for the region. Mihály Filemon, the mayor of Nyírmártonfalva, said earlier that the bids had nothing to do with each other.

In comparison, there are three suspicious coincidences:

  • László Tasó submitted his application on 1 January  2018, and Mihály Filemon submitted his application the next day. (The application was not due at that time.)
  • Tasó and the Fidesz deputy chairman of the county assembly, Sándor Tasi, won the gr. HUF 60 million grant on the same day.
  • Mihály Filemon and László Tasó signed the contract with the same contractor on the same day.

Contractor’s Agreements signed by Filemon and Tasó

Both Tasi and Tasó told that they did not start the project to get EU money, but for the common good. They said that they had to take out a loan for the promenade, and that they calculated that they would end up with a loss of many millions of forints.

Suspecting “systemic failures”, Ákos Hadházy and Anna Donáth have turned to OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office) over the canopy walkway. Transparency International Hungary turned to the Integrity Authority, because they believe the organisation could intervene, as the subsidy will only be paid to the mayor afterwards.

TI Hungary filed official complaint to the Integrity Authority over the “partly unforested canopy trails” financed by the EU – English

Transparency International Hungary has sent a formal notification to the Integrity Authority requesting an investigation into the “partly unforested canopy trails”. In their submission, referring to our story, they write that the cases that have come to light suggest that “systemic errors occur” in the selection of certain projects using EU funds.

The supporting document tells us what the investor promised the European Union:

“The investment in Nyírmártonfalva 174 B forest area demonstrates the potential for a harmonious relationship between man and nature through an example of sustainable forest management planned for the long term. In our country, modern forestry tries to create harmony between the natural environment, the people living in it and the aspects of management, and its presentation is the best platform for education in sustainability. The excursion site, run by a private forest manager, is an excellent example of good stewardship, socially conscious behaviour and a public welfare role that involves care and maximum attention.”

You can take the interactive canopy walkway tour at the link below:

How much did the canopy walkway actually cost?

How much did the canopy walkway actually cost? Átlátszó’s virtual tour of Nyírmártonfalva’s most famous landmark in Hungary Krisztián Szabó, Szilvia Zsilák Nyírmártonfalva is a small Hungarian village, 16 km from the Hungarian-Romanian border and 260 km from Budapest. It’s almost a three-hour drive from the capital to visit the famous investment of Mihály Filemon, the local mayor.

Translated by Krisztián Szabó. The original, Hungarian version of this story was written by Krisztián Szabó and Szilvia Zsilák and can be found here. Cover photo: 3D model of the canopy promenade (source: Átlátszó)