Oxford economist Péter Rona, who advises opposition party Politics Can Be Different (LMP), appeared on ATV Monday night to comment on the government’s announcement that it would compensate Quaestor customers up to HUF 30 million in the case of those who purchased so-called “fictive bonds” and up to HUF 6 million in the case of other securities sold or managed by the failed financial brokerage house.
Rona questions the ethical basis for requiring those “who have nothing to do with the damages” helping pay for them, meaning Hungarian taxpayers who were not Quaestor customers.
The economist says the fact that Hungarians must pay a 27 percent VAT because certain companies get away with unlawfully reclaiming billions of forints worth of VAT every year is another example of this.
No rule of law
“Public opinion is of the impression that the rule of law is a liberal luxury. If there is no rule of law, sooner or later you will lose your investments, your house, your savings and your life. That is the fact we need to confront.”
He says the point of rule of law is that society needs a reliable, predictable, responsible state. “This state is not that. This is an unpredictable, irresponsible, sloppy state,” he says.
“A tasteless joke”
Rona says the entire method employed by successive Hungarian governments in the case of scandals involving banks or brokerage houses is a “tasteless joke” in which the facts of what actually happened never come to light.
“After the system change in Hungary there was an Agrobank collapse, then there was a Konzumbank collapse, then a Postabank collapse, then there was an oil scandal, then a Lupis broker house, then a Globex, then the Kulcsár K&H affair, Széchenyi bank, FX scandals,” lists Rona, observing that “there are financial scandals in other countries as well. But not every year. Not continuously.”
“This is the swamp in which we live”
Rona says Hungary lacks the institutions capable of bringing the facts to light. “There are a few dozen enthusiastic and devoted journalists who try to mine whatever facts they can, and do so heroically, but the system is simply either incapable or unwilling to reveal the facts.”
Rona says every society in the world experiences problems, but that what is “characteristic” of Hungary since the system change is that “we never know what actually happened.”
He says that the minute the Quaestor scandal broke, instead of seeking to understand what had happened and how, the government characteristically rushed to pass laws ostensibly intended to prevent it from happening again (even though often similar laws are already on the books-ed.). “They talk about everything other than how such a thing could happen,” he bemoans.
Rona warns that “if it is allowed to continue, then it is certain that a year from now we will be sitting here talking about another major scandal.”
A tendency to ignore the facts
According to his calculations, the average annual cost to Hungarian taxpayers over the past 20 years of such scandals amounts to 1.2 percent of GDP. He says he is not cynical to believe that this is deliberate, but observes that the Hungarians appear incapable “of learning from our mistakes.”
He cites as an example of the result of Sunday’s by-election in Tapolca.
“We go to polls to vote for parties that lead the country to failure and to the edge of a cliff. We’ve seen this before. There was already a Jobbik and a Fidesz in the history of Hungary. We’ve already followed this road to the end. We know where this leads. But it doesn’t matter because we’re going to vote for them again.”
Rona says Hungarians suffer from a tendency to ignore the facts.