Budapest Mayor Tarlos: It’s not corruption because the law says so

August 19, 2014


Budapest mayor István Tarlós, who is running for reelection in October on the joint Fidesz-KDNP ticket despite belonging to neither party, wants to save the capital’s centuries-old public service system, but is ready to allow the state to take over its public transport should the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán choose to do so. Speaking on ATV’s “Egyenes Beszéd” (“Straight Talk”), Tarlós said Budapest’s third “blue” metro line is not in terminal decline but warned that it could reach this point in the coming years. He also commented that the new electoral system may make mayoral operations more complex but such a situation is not unknown to him.

Electoral system, mayoral position

Tarlós thinks the new electoral system better serves the principle of direct election because Budapest’s 23 district mayors will constitute a clear majority on the city council. There is a theoretical political risk in this system but Tarlós recalled the 1990-94 term, when many city decisions required the support of district mayors. “These mayors will give priority to districts over the capital city with some decisions,” Tarlós said, adding that he has repeatedly tried to reach agreement on how to strengthen the mayor’s position vis-a-vis city council members. It may be beneficial for the mayor to have the power of veto over council decisions and the selection of public utility company CEOs, he added.

Tarlós acknowledged the long-standing tension between the countryside and Budapest. In response to a reported stand-off between himself and Chancellor János Lázár , the Minister responsible for running the Prime Minister’s Office, over the use of EU development funds, Tarlós struck a conciliatory tone, saying this conflict must be kept to a minimum in the future but the capital must also receive what it needs.

“Both Lázár and Orbán have a great willingness to co-operate,” Tarlós said, dismissing the notion that Budapest would somehow stand a greater chance of securing more government money with a left-wing mayor. “It is absurd to imagine a mayor from the left, with the left-wing parties trying to attack and overthrow Mr. Orbán and Fidesz day and night,” he emphasized.

Privatization, Financing

Tarlós wants the public utility system to stay in one piece and remain in the hands of the capital, with the exception of the Budapest public transport company (BKV): “If the government wants to take the BKV – and I do not believe it wants to – I would not oppose this because the city would lose its most painful and intractable problem.”

“In the last 25 years nobody has solved the issue of the BKV’s financing, but despite all the difficulties we have not taken out any external loans since 2010,” he said. “No PM has provided more aid to the BKV in the last 25 years than Orbán.”

Tarlós dismissed corruption allegations from left-wing politicians about the sale of city gas company Főgáz to the Hungarian state for HUF 41-42 billion, saying “everyone knows it’s not corruption because the law says so”.  Asked about the low price, Tarlós said this was so because the price was “Hungarian-based”.  The Budapest gas works was originally sold to foreign investors during the tenure of Tarlós’ predecessor, Gábor Demszky, for HUF 130 billion.

“It is also untrue that Budapest plans to finance the renovation of Budapest’s ‘blue’ metro line 3 with the money from the sale of Főgáz,” Tarlós said. “Orbán has not mentioned state acquisitions of public utility companies in the near future, nor of the Budapest sewage works.”

The metro line 3

Today, the metro line 3 is not in terminal decline and only safe trains are operating on it, said Tarlós, adding that the real problem is the metro carriages whose renovation would cost the capital about HUF 60 billion but would keep them in service for another 15 years. The replacement of the rail tracks has already begun and will be completed in the spring of 2015, according to Tarlós. “We should not forget that the poor condition of the metro line did not just occur in recent years”, he said, pointing his finger of blame at his predecessor who served as Budapest mayor for twenty years.

The Budapest Transport Centre (BKK)

Asked whether personal reasons had adversely affected BKK’s ability to function properly, Tarlós said David Vitézy, the 28-year-old BKK chief who is a cousin of Orbán, is an “imaginative young man” who had worked very efficiently before 2010 in a “maverick position”, which explains why he reached such a high position despite his “lack of experience”. “Sometimes his imaginative side meets his inexperienced side and they cancel each other out,” quipped Tarlós.

The mayor nevertheless acknowledged that he had erred by allowing the BKK too much power, which he said was a key reason for the current problems. “A smaller, more focused BKK is needed,” he concluded.

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