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Hungary's Roma local government divided and broke

The following account of Monday night’s extraordinary meeting of the Countrywide Roma Local Government general assembly, at which a member of a HírTV camera crew was physically assaulted, was published by RomNet on Tuesday.

Cursing, threats, screaming, and shouting took place at the Countrywide Roma Local Government (ORÖ) extraordinary general assembly meeting in Mohács.   Even a member of the Hír TV film crew was physically assaulted in the chaos that enveloped the assembly meeting, reports RomNet reporter (Attila Hidvégi-B.).

In an invitation sent out Sunday afternoon, ORÖ president István Hedegüs convoked an extraordinary meeting of the 47 member general assembly for 6 pm the following day in (the southwestern town) of Mohács.  (Previously extraordinary meetings had been held in the Baranya county city, except then the invitation was for 8:30 pm, and only 25 representatives supporting the president participated in the meeting).  A number arrived to the meeting (held at the community building named after the Kossuth prize winning gypsy painter, István Szentandrássy) upset that they had been required to drive 5-600 kilometers to attend an extraordinary meeting.  They considered holding a meeting in a settlement near to the southern border to be an unnecessary expenditure of several million forints, especially as the ORÖ has its own seat in Budapest.

Tempers running high

The outraged representatives called the president’s attention to the fact that the designated starting time, 6 pm, had passed, and called on him to open the assembly.  Once 45 representatives consisting of the Lungo Drum fraction (which is divided into two camps) and the opposition representatives were seated in the meeting room, István Hegedüs attempted to open the extraordinary meeting by holding a presentation about the difficult living circumstances of Roma living in the countryside (while the missing two representatives necessary for his supporters to be in the majority arrived).  A few minutes into the presentation, representatives started loudly calling for the agenda for the meeting to be put to a vote.  Seeing that opposition representatives were in the majority and that he could not get the necessary vote to approve the agenda, he called a half hour recess.

During the recess Hegedüs men tried in vain to persuade the representatives to “cross over” and vote for the agenda so that the assembly could continue.  In the midsts of escalating tensions, shouting, and cursing the daughter of one of the female representatives punched a member of the television crew covering the event in the stomach.  Despite the unprecedented incident, the Hír TV crew remained in the building and continued their work, but according to the RomNet reporter the assaulted technician did not return to the meeting room.

Mihály Dancs, the head of the Roma Civil Law Movement (RPM) tried to bring order by warning the representatives that it is a crime to threaten or assault members of the press.   In response, someone shouted “you are also going to die”.  Later the woman who assaulted the member of the television crew further provoked the representatives and their guests by calling them “dirty Romungors” and “dirty turncoats”.

After the lives of those officially attending the meeting and the RPM legal advisor were threatened, many wished to call the police for fear that the personal attacks and mud slinging could cause things to get out of hand.  One representative even recommended overturning the tables.

István Hegedüs only formally resumed the meeting after Miklós Balogh, the Lungon Drom Hajdú-Bihar county president and Heves county president Oszkár Lakatos arrived just before 7:30.  In this way, with 24 out of 47 assemblymen, the president could attain a majority of one.   The representatives leaving the meeting met former financial oversight committee chairperson Syilvia Gáspár and agreed to turn to the Government Office Tuesday morning in connection with the unlawfully held assembly.  Former parliamentarian László Berényi, who is the deputy chairman of Lungo Drom, told RomNet that they would initiate this week the exclusion of Oszkárt Lakatos, Miklós Balogh, László Vajda, and ORÖ president István Hegedüs from the organization that is a member of the Fidesz electoral alliance and was formerly led by the Prime Minister’s commissioner for Roma affairs, Flórián Farkas.

Roma Civil Block chairman István Makai told reporters that the Mohács assembly demonstrated that István Hegedüs (who was reportedly Flórián Farkas’ hand-picked successor who denounced his political benefactor in the wake of scandals involving improperly spent EU funds-ed.) insists on holding onto power “tooth, nail and now by fist as well”, and does not notice that his time is up.  He added that the time has come when the ORÖ president draw the necessary conclusions from this, because it is not possible to purchase the one-vote majority before each and every general assembly meeting.  In his opinion, the local government and gypsy society must acknowledge  that the current situation within ORÖ is unsustainable, and that it is not possible to entrust the future of Hungary’s gypsies to irresponsible people.  He noted that during the one year presidency of István Hegedüs, ORÖ ran out of money and was brought to the brink of bankruptcy, and that it cannot break out of the shadow of crime and shame.  “Now is the time for István Hegedüs and Flórián Farkas to leave public life holding one another’s hand” he said, adding that by trading accusations daily they are trying to mislead the representatives, the government members, the gypsy community, which does not notice that “the two of them are the shame of  Roma society”.

MCF president János Balogh stated that István Hegedüs and his “representative clan” had embezzled the money of school children, and that it was for this reason that they did not receive the tablet devices they should have received through public tender. (http://www.romnet.hu/hirek/2015/06/01/szazmillioert_venne_tableteket_az_oro).   He alleged that a number of parents in various locations around the country had acknowledged receiving none existing tablet devices.  The Roma local government was supported to deliver the devices within the framework of the EU funded “Road to the choice of profession” scholarship program.  ORÖ wants to sue the company that won the public tender for the full amount of the contract, the price of 4500 tablet machines, or HUF 54 million plus VAT, and is also asking damages of HUF 6 million for negative news appearing in the press pertaining to the local government.

The president concluded the extraordinary meeting in under 20 minutes 

Once the representatives opposed to István Hegedüs left the meeting, the president and the remaining representatives concluded their official business in less than 20 minutes, voting in favor of the five items on the agenda.  The resolutions sent out the previously afternoon were approved by all 24 members without abstention.  The resolutions provide for ORÖ to establish a four, give person committees to be elected at the next general assembly meeting.  There will be a Legal and Procedural Committee, an Educational and Cultural Committee, a Social, Health and Sport Committee, an Employment, and an Economics, and Agriculture Committee.   The representatives are confident that in addition to their uniform representative honorarium they will earn more money as committee president or vice-president and as contracted advisors to the president.  In this way they can earn HUF 200,000 more income from the local government every month.  The law, on the other hand, precisely defines the maximum amount that can be paid to the presidents and representatives of national local governments.

The 24 person representative group also decided on the president’s proposal to submit to the ministry the so-called “Roma mentor network development” technical conceptual project of special importance prepared within the framework of the Ministry for Human Resources Operative Program.

Based on a single letter received from Károly Czibere, the undersecretary responsible for closing the gap between Roma and non-Roma in the middle of October, the ORÖ claims that the local government will not give the HUF 2 billion allocated to the program to the István Türr raining and Research Center (Türr István Képző és Kutató Intézet or TKKI for short) but rather to the Roma local government.

In response to RomNet’s inquiry, Emmi pointed out that the EFOP Annual Development Budget for 2015 was published in the September 22nd edition of the Hungarian Gazette, according to which the EFOP-1.1.2. “Grow” the change (commonly known as the 1000 Roma women project) was transferred to the Türr István Training and Research Institute and the Social and Child protection Main Directorate, whereas the EFOP-1.3.2. “Roma mentor network development” project was transferred to TKKI as the head of a consortium.   Previously both projects were coordinated by ORÖ, and TKKI was only a consortium partner.  According to the announcement, as a result of the suspicion of fraud related to the Bridge to work program project and the investigation being conducted by the tax authorities, the Roma local government cannot calculate with special program support.

According to the calculations of the local government representatives, the HUF 2 billion would provide each one with work and responsibilities through 2020.  At the same time, it is interesting to note that Flórián Farkas has been offering contracts and work through the National Development Ministry and promising government money to those representatives prepared to oppose Hegedüs.  For Emmi and the members of the government, the scandal surrounding ORÖ has become increasingly awkward, as has the internal fight within the gypsy local government, as well as the person of Flórián Farkas, because leading governing party offices are required daily to explain matters to the press, the public, and in parliament as well.

Money is what moves the strings 

The reason offered for holding an extraordinary general assembly of ORÖ was not these proposals but was the opportunity for ORÖ to purchase a property worth HUF 100 million from a receiver.   In 2007 during the presidency of Orbán Kolompár, sold the Countrywide Gypsy Informationand Cultural Center (OCIMK), which had twice burnt down due to arson, which was operated as a public service company.  They had to sell the former cultural center in Budapest’s 10th district because the cost of renovating the building would have exceed HUF 200 million.  A company appraised the value of the 1250 sqm building which stands on a 7134 sqm site in January 2007 for HUF 131 million, even though just the value of the site at that time was estimated to be HUF 250 million by real estate brokerage companies.  In the end, the real estate was sold for HUF 140 million along with HUF 40 million worth of debt.  From the sale price, at Kolompár’s recommendation, HUF 50 million was deposited into a closed account at the Erste Bank, and its interest used to fund higher education scholarships for Rom students, which was paid out through 2011 under the presidency of Flóriän Farkas.

ORÖ would also like to get back from the receiver the right to control the bank account in which there is over HUF 2 million, as well as ownership of the Sziv street real estate.  The history of the Sziv street real estate isn’t simply either:  In 1999, OCIMK Kht., whose leader was Ildikó Dobóvári, a previous ORÖ departed head, lent HUF 5 million to OCÖ run at the time by then president Flórián Farkas.  Because the organization could not repay the loan, a company owned by the local government received ownership of the Sziv street flat and, of course, the costs going with it, that had previously functioned as the local government’s headquarters.  The local government wanted to sell the headquarters under Kolompár as well, but the sale did not take place.

There were previously sales of assets on the part of the gypsy local governent.  In 2004 the State Examiners Office (Állam Számvevőszêk) found that during the 1995-2003 presidency of Flórián Farkas, the local government had somehow  spent in a manner that had yet to be explained some HUF 200-300 million worth of shares in MOL that it had received from the state.  The local government had received the MOL shares according to a 1995 government decree providing for the transfer of shares with a nominal value of HUF 35,253,000.   In July of 1997 the local government under the leadership of Flórián Farkas approved the decision to sell the MOL shares which resulted in revenues of HUF 82,949,890 Ft by the end of the year.  The sale of the securities was entrusted to CODEX Rt.  The shares would be worth billions today and generate hundreds of millions worth of dividends for the local government today.  In the audit covering the period of January 1st, 1999 through June 30th, 2003, the State Auditors determined that a significant loss of assets had taken place and reported this to the authorities, but the police ended this procedure.

Regaining ownership of the assets would be a kind of capital injection for the OKÖ which will soon struggle with liquidity problems, because in addition to the HUF 122 million in debt, ORÖ just repay HUF 226 million used improperly within the Bridge to to the world of work project, it is possible that nothing remains of the state funds ORÖ is due to receive in 2016.  This could even result in the utilities in the Budapest seat of government being turned off.  The police and tax authority investigation currently underway, István Hegedüs, the current Countrywide Roma President, Ildikó Dobóvári, the previous office head, and Mrs. Gábor Bencye, the previous economic director, may be summoned by the tax investigators.

MSZP MP Nándor Gúr along with Jobbik MP Ádám Mirkóczki, as well as Democratic Coalition (DK) and LMP MPs, has demanded that parliament lift the immunity from prosecution of prior ORÖ president, Flórián Farkas, who ( in addition to being a Fidesz member of parliament) presently serves as the prime minister’s commissioner for Roma affairs.

A number of parliamentary politicians have declared in parliament or within the framework of press conferences that the time is at hand to put the cuffs on the hands of the prime minister’s commissioner, just as this has happened to socialist politicians within a few days of the suspicion of criminal activity was made known to the public, and they have recommended Flórián voluntarily waive his immunity from prosecution and ask to be arrested at the first police precinct.

István Hegedüs told RomNet that he as no responsibility for the Bridge to the world of world program because every decision was taken by his precedessor, Flórián Farads and the department head, Ildikó Dobóväri.   He says that an earlier general assembly decision from the time he joined the government on October 31st 2014 and May 15th 2015 he had no right to sign or decide anything, and that the scandalous contract to rent a car for HUF 500000 a month was signed by the department head as well.

Depending on whether the one person majority changes, the Countrywide Roma Local Government will hold a new meeting in November to divvy up the committee places and vote for the honorariums to be paid representatives.  If István Hegedüs’ opponents are in the majority, then once again they will initiate a vote of no confidence against the president and the department head.

 

Budapest Sentinel :