Fidesz MP Szilárd Németh submitted a bill on Tuesday that would exempt the Hungarian Postal Service (Magyar Posta) from the provisions of the freedom of information act.
Why does this matter?
- State-owned companies are hotbeds for corruption.
- The public has a right to know how public funds are being used.
- A vote in favor of such legislation would create precedent, thereby paving the way for the government to avoid having to answer for the activities of state-owned enterprises.
Why is this especially interesting in the case of the Hungarian Postal Service?
The Hungarian Postal Service is somewhat of a one-stop shop and provides an array of services. In addition to postal services it provides banking, financial and insurance services.
Hungarian Postal Service assets amount to almost HUF 200 billion (USD 700 million), according to Miklós Ligeti, Director of Legal Affairs for Transparency International Hungary. He says the Hungarian Postal Service is a huge player on the national market, and by exempting the state-owned enterprise from having to provide information in the public interest, the government would be giving it a distinct advantage over its competitors. In many cases its competitors are other state-owned enterprises.
“This law grants a disproportionate and unjustified advantage to [the Hungarian Postal Service] by legal means,” says Ligeti, adding that “this is a major intrusion into the market [because] other market players who also manage and operate with public funds are not exempt from providing information in the public interest through freedom of information requests.”
More alarming is the precedent that would be set should Fidesz get its way in allowing a state-owned enterprise to side-step its obligations to provide public interest information.
Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile
Should Szilárd Németh’s proposal be adopted by parliament, the situation would arise in which a state-owned entity worth almost USD 700 million is legally permitted to avoid having to provide such information.
According to 444.hu’s sources, this is merely the first attempt in a series of similar events that may affect various sectors in which the state has a business interest. Companies that may potentially be allowed to skirt their public-interest responsibility include MVM Zrt. (state-owned energy giant), the Hungarian National Bank, Szerencsejáték Zrt. (the state-owned lottery company), Tokajkereskedőház Zrt. (the state-owned wine company) and pretty much every other state-owned enterprise with lots of money.