Átlátszó, K-Monitor and Transparency have not accepted the annual report of the Anti-Corruption Working Group

The report does not give a realistic picture of the corruption problems in Hungary, does not contain ambitious enough commitments, and lacks a real confrontation with the corruption situation in Hungary. This is three of the reasons why Átlátszó, K-Monitor and Transparency International voted against the adoption of the 2023 Report of the Anti-Corruption Working Group of the Integrity Authority. At the same time, the presentation of specific cases and the risks of corruption highlighted were missing: party financing, campaign spending, asset declarations or the situation of whistleblowers.

The Anti-Corruption Working Group adopted its annual report, but the decision was not unanimous. The document, which analyses the year 2023, was voted by 17 members in favour and 3 against – the latter being delegates from the 3 NGO members of the Working Group: Átlátszó, K-Monitor and Transparency International Hungary. The reason for their decision, which was similar to last year, was explained in a special report by the organisations voting no.

In addition to the Integrity Authority, an Anti-Corruption Working Group was set up in 2022, in which NGOs that are truly independent of the government can participate. Ten members from government agencies and ten civil society members work together in the Working Group, and several sub-working groups have been formed, with both government and civil society members. The Anti-Corruption Working Group has analytical, proposing, advisory and decision-making functions.

The Working Group published its annual report for 2023 on 14 March, which includes 18 consensus proposals (i.e. agreed by both public and civil society members) and 10 non-consensus proposals supported only by civil society.

Two civil society members, K-Monitor and Transparency International (TI), also published a special report on the evaluation of the work of the Working Group so far, which was commented and supported by Eszter Katus of Átlátszó, Gábor Kutasi (Hungarian Economic Society), Szilvia Várady, Mihály Hegedűs and Tamás Sándor.

„While some of the proposals in our report for 2022 have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, no government action has been taken to implement the more serious proposals. The majority of our civil society proposals in our newly adopted report for 2023 were not included in the Working Group report by consensus, i.e. without the support of the state members. Nevertheless, the majority adoption of the report is a sign of confidence that by working together and implementing the agreed proposals, we will succeed in reducing corruption,” said Dr. Szilvia Várady, Vice President of the Working Group, on the official report.

However, representatives of Átlátszó, K-Monitor and Transparency International Hungary take a more gloomy view.

As stated in the statement of TI and K-Monitor, the three organisations voted against the report again this year, as they believe that it does not give a true picture of the corruption problems in Hungary and does not contain ambitious enough commitments.

The NGOs also criticised the report for failing to address the corruption situation in Hungary in a realistic way. They also feel it is problematic that the report makes no mention of several high-priority corruption risks, such as party funding, campaign spending, asset declarations or the situation of whistleblowers.

Only government members have been given certain data

During the last year, the Working Group also attempted to establish a system of indicators to detect corruption risks, or at least to get the data needed to do so. In most cases, however, this data was not made available to Working Group members until mid to late February 2024. As a result, the possibility to draw conclusions and make recommendations was limited, as the law requires the report to be ready by 15 March.

Effective work was also hampered by the fact that the relationship between the civil society and government members of the Working Group is still not considered to be a partnership.

This also hinders the flow of information, as exemplified by the fact that the study on the audit of domestic subsidies was carried out by the Századvég Consortium on behalf of the Ministry of Finance, but the study was not made available to the civil society members of the Working Group.

Another problem is that the mandate of the task force does not cover specific cases, nor does it include, for example, high-profile cases of corruption or integrity breaches that have received a lot of attention recently.

The presentation of these cases would be essential to expose systemic malpractices such as the top-down concentration of public procurement markets.

The Working Group has also left a number of important issues off the agenda, which are essential for preventing and fighting corruption. Political financing, the fight against money laundering, whistleblower protection or asset declarations are completely outside the scope of the Working Group report.

Meanwhile, in all three areas, the government, without any consultation, “has initiated or enacted legislative changes that have weakened previous rules,” the special report by K-Monitor and Transparency points out.

Written and translated by Eszter Katus. Hungarian version of this story can be found here