Emergency bill to exempt MNB-owned enterprises, foundations from public disclosure

February 29, 2016



Just three weeks after Fidesz MP Szilárd Németh submitted a bill effectively exempting the Hungarian Postal Service from having to disclose information about its business operations to the public, a similar bill was submitted today that would give the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) the right to classify documents pertaining to enterprises and foundations owned by the central bank.

Both bills are to be put to a vote on Tuesday, that is, one day after the central bank bill was submitted for urgent consideration.

The bill appears to be in response to formal requests for public information about the bank’s activities submitted by Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) politician Bertalan Tóth.  Like the postal service bill, the provisions of the central bank bill would apply to requests for public information that are already pending.

Protecting so-called economic interests

As in the case of the postal service bill, the reason offered in the central bank bill for secrecy is “the protection of economic interests”. Online daily 444.hu writes that this makes no sense because the central bank has no market competitors and does not manage Hungary’s monetary policy through the use of companies.

With regard to the foundations set up by the central bank, 444.hu writes that, according to the bill, from the time the central bank pours money into foundations, that money can no longer be considered public funds.  The online daily claims that the following provision of the bill “contradicts an enforceable court judgement”:

“In the case of establishing a foundation the capital is set aside to such an extent that it can be determined that the capital furnished by the founder loses its public asset quality.  So despite the fact that the founder previously managed public assets in a manner benefitting the foundation, that total assets—bypassing the founder’s assets and its oversight—became the property of a newly created legal person, and in doing so lost the quality of being a public asset.”

Overwriting court decisions

According to 444.hu, the bill disregards a ruling by the Budapest Court which compelled the central bank to release information pertaining to the operations of its foundations on the grounds that such data is a public interest.

The amount in question is huge as the central bank endowed its various so-called “Pallasz Athéné” foundations with some HUF 250 billion (USD 910 million).

The court ruled that “apart from the fact that the Hungarian National Bank assets are national assets, the Hungarian National Bank manages public money”, and “all funds supplied by the state or monetary assets derived from other sources to an exclusively state-owned organization are public funds.”

444.hu writes that the bill submitted on Monday seeks to overwrite this court judgement.

“The Hungarian court handed down a legally enforceable judgement which the MNB does not like, and for this reason the parliament is adopting a law which says that what the court says is not the case,” writes the daily online.

Concealing the truth

“Members of Fidesz are not mucking about,” writes 444.hu.  “They quickly want to be certain that how the central bank spends hundreds of billions under the leadership of György Matolcy is not revealed.”  The daily online writes that Erik Bánki submitted the bill with urgency, meaning that it is to be put to a vote on Tuesday along with the Hungarian postal service bill.