The Ministry of Human Resources is reportedly investigating how some HUF 300 million (USD 1.1 million) was spent by the National Roma Self Government (ORÖ) within the framework of the so-called Bridge to the World of Work program, reports index.hu. According to the daily news portal, state auditors (ÁSZ) have been conducting their own investigation for over half a year but have yet to formally release any findings. The Hungarian Tax and Customs Administration (NAV) is also investigating three instances of suspected fraud, reports hir24.hu.
Roma representative László Vajda told ATV last week that neither he nor other ORÖ representatives ever received any information about the EU-funded Bridge to the World of Work program, either from then-chairman Flórián Farkas or anyone belonging to his circle of co-called experts.
Currently serving as government commissioner for Roma matters, Farkas has dominated Roma politics in Hungary for over a decade. Previously, he simultaneously served as the chairman of the National Roma Self Government, the chairman of (Roma political party) Lungo Drom, and the head of the National Roma Alliance.
According to Vajda, Farkas saw to it that the same five or six members of his inner circle were responsible for administering programs. According to Vajda the “experts” comprising Farkas’ inner circle held multiple jobs for which they received multiple salaries. “Even his secretary worked for five different places, including the National Roma Research center,” says Vajda, making her one of Hungary’s highest-paid executive assistants (assuming, of course, she was allowed to keep the money and didn’t simply hand it over to her boss-ed.)
Launched to much fanfare in 2013, Hungary’s National Roma Research Center was established to debunk myths and dispel misconceptions about the Roma people in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe. At a press conference in 2013 Farkas claimed that the Roma policies of the second Orbán government (2010-2014) were successful and that it was with an eye towards exporting them to other European countries that the Research Center would publish studies as part of the EU-funded Social Renewal Operative Program.
Two years and some HUF 1.1 billion (USD 4 million) later, the National Roma Research Center does not have much to show for its efforts. According to Vajda, its original director, a member of Hungary’s respected Academy of Sciences, left in 2014 and was replaced by its current director, János Gyurok. Vajda is not familiar with any studies published by the National Roma Research Center, assuming studies were even made.
A Google search of “Roma Kutatóközpont” (Roma Research Center) appears to turn up nothing. Not even a website.
According to Vajda, it was not until Politics Can Be Different politician Ákos Hadházy exposed some HUF 17 million worth of financial irregularities that he, Vajda, realized something was the matter. According to Vajda, ORÖ representatives only learned of the purchase of a building in an exclusive part of Budapest after the scandal broke. “This would have required the authorization of the National Roma Self Government,” insists Vajda, who says the issue was never brought up, let alone put to a vote.
Even Farkas’s hand-picked successor at ORÖ, István Hegedüs, only found out what had taken place after dismissing the economic director and the responsible office heads. Having been “misled” by Farkas, now government commissioner for Roma matters, Hegedüs has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to clarify what the National Roma Government, threatened with the possible loss of much of its operating budget, can expect.
“The National Roma Self Government, (Roma political party) Lungo Drom, the National Roma Alliance– all were headed by the person of Floriàn Farkas,” says Vajda, adding that “the same people who served as government office heads were responsible for administering the programs and spending the money.” He says that despite doing what Farkas asked of them, none of the representatives were given the opportunity to participate in any of the programs. “If Ákos Hadházy hadn’t investigated the pubic procurements, we wouldn’t have known about them,” says Vajda.
He says a group of ORÖ representatives has been investigating allegations of malfeasance for half a year but that it frequently “runs into walls”. “They simply don’t take us seriously,” says Vajda, who adds that none of the documents requested of ministries or government offices by the National Roma Government have been delivered to date. He believes many of them have been destroyed–a process he says has been going on since December.
Vajda says ORÖ is divided and its former chairman interferes with attempts on the part of Hegedüs and others to get to the bottom of things. “Flórián Farkas’s time is over. He’s lost all credibility,” says Vajda. “A new Roma politics is needed.”
Apparently, Farkas is not beyond pressuring ORÖ representatives. “Yesterday he called to say that he was counting on my full cooperation,” says Vajda.