KEHI investigation of Swiss civil fund “absurd”

September 13, 2014

KEHI

According to NGOs blacklisted by the Hungarian government, the Government Control Office (KEHI) audit of the Swiss-Hungarian Civil Fund is not a real audit because the government participated in the selection and oversight of the proposed projects.  The daily operations of civil organizations are being disrupted by the fact that they are being asked to produce documents that are already available to the government.

The day after the National Bureau of Investigation raided the office of Ökotárs Foundation, KEHI wrote a letter to civil organizations making it clear that the government was broadening the scope of the inspections.  Previously, investigations were only into funds received from the Norwegian Civil Fund.  In the letter dated September 8 (and delivered on September 10) they requested that the organizations deliver to KEHI all the documents relating to the Swiss-Hungarian Civil Fund  by September 11, that is, within twenty-four hours.

What is the Swiss-Hungarian Civil Fund and why hasn’t anyone dealt with it until now?

So far the Swiss-Hungarian Civil Fund has peacefully hidden in the shadow of its big brother, the Norwegian Civil Fund.  Norway and Switzerland support the efforts of EU member countries to decrease social-economic inequality.  Norway and Switzerland have allocated HUF 40 billion (USD 170 million) and HUF 31 billion (USD 132 million) for this purpose.  Only a small fraction of this is earmarked for Hungarian civil organizations.  Between 2012 and 2015 the Norwegian Civil Fund and the Swiss-Hungarian Civil and Scholarship Funds made some HUF 4 billion (USD 17 million) and HUF 1.3 billion (USD 6 million) available to NGOs.

The goal of the Swiss-Hungarian Civil Fund is to help those NGOs active in social and environmental protection. Unlike the Norwegian Civil Grants program, it does not cover the entire country. Rather, it is specific to the six counties making up northern and central Hungary where it helps underprivileged students complete their high school studies.

Additional similarities between the two funds is that the Swiss money is also handled by the same organization branded a “useless group of partisan tricksters” by Prime Minister’s Office deputy state secretary Nándor Csepreghy: the Ökotárs Foundation and partners (Autonómia Foundation, Foundation for the Development of Democratic Rights and the Carpathian Foundation). The program director for Autonómia Foundation, Tibor Béres, believes that only upon first glance do the operations of the two foundations resemble each other–there are fundamental differences in that the government has a much greater say over the distribution of Swiss civil fund money and in the oversight of projects as well.

According to Ökotárs Foundation chairperson Veronika Móra, as of September 1 no inspection of the Swiss-Hungarian Civil Fund was under way precisely because the construction was different: “The Swiss, the consortium members and the Hungarian government concluded a three-party agreement.”

Autonómia Foundation chairman András Nun said: “The government can exert serious pressure with regard to which organizations are declared winners.” The reason this is possible is because, while experts evaluate the applications, the final decision is made by the selection committee which can override their decisions.  Members designated by ministries and government organs also participate in this.

According to Béres governmental organs participate not only in the selection but also the monitoring of individual projects, and for this reason the current inspection is absurd.  “KEHI is asking for documents for which they need only go to another government building.  We’ve got every document but not precisely grouped in the way KEHI asked.  Our colleagues must waste hours compiling the documents, leaving them no time for the daily responsibilities, for example projects under way.”

“This is a PR exercise,” says Nun. “Maybe the government believes they will find some invoices, for example an electric bill, that were paid twice in the case of different projects.”

With regard to the Swiss fund, Béres believes it is accountable to many actors including the defunct National Development Agency, the Ministry for Human Resources, VÁTI Nonprofit KFT. and the Széchenyi Program office, which requests documents quarterly.  By government decree the Swiss-Hungarian program is regularly inspected by the Main Directorate for Auditing European Supports (EUTAF) at the Ministry for National Economy.  According to Ökotárs, upon the conclusion of the inspection EUTAF announced that the operations of the funds took place according to the rules, but that Ökotárs is not allowed to release the final report because it is not public.  EUTAF is considering releasing it.  The same applies to the written evaluations of the project proposals.

It is possible to review the programs organizations winning scholarships from the Swiss-Hungarian Civil Fund at  http://okotars.hu/2013/index.php?q=reporter&f=svajcfix.  The largest grant (more than HUF 36 million/USD 155,000) was received by an association in Tiszavasvár with which to set up the “Give a helping hand network”, helping disadvantaged families and children.  Somoskőújfalu received HUF 1.7 million (USD 7000) “to renew free environmental advisory services”.  The Zemplen Association of Mushroomers received HUF 2.4 million (USD 10,000) to “inform as many people as possible about the joys and dangers of collecting mushrooms, and how to spread the culture of environmentally aware mushrooming”.