Pro-govt media attack Norwegian NGO Fund recipients

July 25, 2014

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Several pro-government media outlets have published mid-week reports on what they call “abuse of funds” at several Hungarian NGOs that received grants within the framework of the Norway Civil Grants program.

The Fidesz-linked Magyar Nemzet published a story yesterday which asserts that the reason investigative website atlatszo.hu and the Ökotárs Foundation have refused to turn over their Norway Grants application documents to the Government Control Office is because “they are unable to account for their spending”. The article claims that “it may not be a coincidence that the Asimov Foundation does not or cannot account for HUF 32 million (USD 140,000) support received for atlatszo.hu’s ‘development and transmission of public funding strategies’ project. This is even more interesting as the site is ‘bombing’ government bodies with a constant flow of public information requests through their system that is run by Átlátszó Public Nonprofit Kft, that is not an NGO and therefore it is not entitled to apply for Norway Grant money.  All signs suggest therefore, that Átlátszó is using Asimov Foundation as a proxy to claim such support.”

The article also tries to link Átlátszó with the leftist government of Gordon Bajnai, saying that: “Among the owners of Átlátszó Public Nonprofit Kft. we can find the name of Csaba Tordai, who served as Prime Minister’s Office state secretary under the Bajnai administration. Before the change of governments in 2010 he was responsible for deleting the complete electronic correspondence of government members,” the daily adds.

Ökotárs’s similar refusal to co-operate with the Government Control Office is also targeted. The daily says the financial activities of the Foundation commissioned in Hungary to distribute civil grants “violates Hungarian legislation for transparency” with its actions.

Átlátszó answered the allegations on their website. “Magyar Nemzet is accurate by identifying close connections between Asimov Foundation and Átlátszó, as the two organizations have been closely working together for years, and this is apparent in both organizations’ open communications.” The statement continues with a detailed rebuttal of accusations that the refusal of co-operation is connected to an attempt to conceal public data: “The reason why we refuse to comply with Government Control Office (KEHI) probe, is due to its lack of authority in the question. Asimov Foundation published all public material in connection with our shared projects on its website, which is easily accessible to KEHI employees and anybody else.”

Meanwhile a Magyar Nemzet online ‘exposé’ of corruption at a liberal NGO website has been ridiculed by several online media publications. The article said an invoice from the Association of Young Liberals (Liberális Fiatalok Egyesülete, LiFE) had spent HUF 2,109 (USD  9) on Norwegian Grant funding on two packs of cigarettes, a glass of beer, a hamburger, a pack of cigarette papers and chocolate.

Rightist private news channel HírTV ran a newspiece on this story, without mentioning the exact amount spent on these goods. HírTV however cited a KEHI official raising the possibility of prosecuting over “misusing public funds”, without specifying that the public funds in question are in fact Norwegian.

Liberal 444.hu reacted to the Magyar Nemzet online article by writing: “This is a scandal on the same scale as when Czech president Václav Klaus stole that pen”. LiFE quickly rebutted the accusations, saying Magyar Nemzet had incorrectly claimed this bill was covered by Norway Grant money, as it is an invoice from their own compulsory contribution to the project.