Hungary’s government continues its crackdown on independent NGOs
Hungary’s Government Control Office (KEHI), a government agency under the direction of the Office of the Prime Minister responsible for auditing the use of government funds, notified several Hungarian non-governmental organizations yesterday that the NGOs would be investigated in connection with their use of the funds received through the EEA Grants’ NGO Fund. The latest turn of events in the Hungarian government’s war on the country’s civil sector comes only weeks after the government’s alleged unlawful raiding of two foundations responsible for the regranting of the EEA and Norway Grants’ NGO Fund to Hungary’s civil sector.
Who will be investigated?
K-Monitor, an independent public funds watchdog, posted news of the impending investigation yesterday morning on Facebook. The Facebook post reads: “It appears we’ve been contacted by KEHI. Willkommen!”
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (Tarsadalom a Szabadságjogokért or TASZ) also announced on Facebook that they had been contacted by KEHI regarding the investigation. The Facebook post reads:
“This morning we, too, joined the illustrious ranks of those who had been contacted by the Government Control Office – the government’s ‘iron fist’. They demand a total accounting for all funds distributed [to TASZ] from the Norway NGO Fund. While we have absolutely nothing to hide and will provide [KEHI] all requested documents, we contest the legality of their investigation. The only reason why we are cooperating with KEHI is because we do not want the government to suspend our tax identification number. We are exploring what our legal options are related to the unlawful investigation. It is regrettable that this is where we stand.”
The Kretakor Foundation, a performing arts foundation, was also notified that they would be subject to KEHI’s investigation. The organization posted the following response to KEHI’s investigation notice:
“The Kretakor Foundation will not be cooperating with KEHI’s unlawful investigation,” says Managing Director Marton Gulyas.
“Numerous civil organizations, including Kretakor, were notified today by the Government Control Office that they are part of an investigation into the use of funds provided through the Norway Grants NGO funds. The Kretakor Foundation has anticipated this happening given the government’s most recent campaign to discredit [Hungary’s] civil organizations, and has consulted with numerous legal experts regarding the legality of the KEHI’s investigation. Our legal experts unanimously agree that KEHI has no legal jurisdiction to investigate our use of funds provided through the Norway Grants NGO Fund because KEHI’s jurisdiction is limited to the supervision of Hungarian public funds, and grants distributed through the Norway Grants NGO Fund are completely independent from the Hungarian state’s budget.
“The Kretakor Foundation will continue to operate in compliance with Hungarian law as it has done in previous years. Both Hungary’s Tax Authority and our accountant are preparing statements regarding our operations. They have all found everything to be in order.
“The Kretakor Foundation will continue to operate in accordance with all governmental organizations as prescribed under law, but will not subject itself to this politically motivated investigation.
“We are not required to subject ourselves to this politically motivated mockery campaign, but we continue to demonstrate accountability to society [because of our public benefit status]. Our commitment to the latter will continue, just as it has in the past, to meet expectations.”
Gulyas responded to KEHI’s investigation notice by calling KEHI’s office and notifying the lead investigators that his organization would not comply with the investigation.
Atlatszo.hu, an investigative news organization, has also been targeted by KEHI. Atlatszo has stated that they too will not comply.
Transparency International Hungary has also been targeted by KEHI’s investigation. A source at Transparency says the organization will comply but protests the legality of the investigation.
Only the latest in a series of orchestrated attacks meant to undermine Hungary’s small independent civil sector
KEHI’s investigations are the latest in a series of attacks on behalf of the Hungarian government which target the country’s small and independent civil sector. Despite domestic and international condemnations (including that of the Norwegian government whose money is distributed through NGO Fund), it is the opinion of numerous legal experts that the Hungarian government continues to violate domestic law and international agreements as part of its crackdown on civil society.