The Hungarian state spent its annual communications budget of HUF 25 billion (USD 95.3 million) the first three months of 2017, reports daily Magyar Nemzet.
According to the newspaper, various institutions had spent well over the annual budget by the first half of the year, to the tune of some HUF 35 billion (USD 133.5 million) on communications by June through the National Communication Office (Nkoh).
At the beginning of each year, Nkoh launches a huge, HUF 25 billion procurement through which they select three, usually Fidesz-tied communications agencies who compete with each other in every state communication procurement throughout the year. According to the contract, once the HUF 25 billion budget is depleted, the contract is terminated and Nkoh has to launch a new procurement. Until the new procurement is closed, state communications spending must be put on hold.
However, Nkoh did not launch a new procurement once the annual budget was exceeded in March, and the government has conducted multiple propaganda campaigns since then.
According to an expert contacted by Magyar Nemzet, despite the seemingly obvious breach of contract, Nkoh’s actions were legal. A cleverly hidden section of the contract makes it possible to twice replenish the budget with an additional HUF 25 billion, and to extend the period of the contract from 12 months to three years. This means that, contrary to information published by the government, the contract for state propaganda is not a one-year, HUF 25 billion contract, but a HUF 75 billion (USD 286 million) or three-year one, depending on which runs out first.
Reducing government expenditure on communications and improving transparency were the reasons offered by the government for creating Nkoh in the first place. So-called propaganda minister Antal Rogán, who is the National Communication Office’s main customer, used to defend the HUF 25 billion budget by pointing out that the Gyurcsány-Bajnai government had spent HUF 84 billion (USD 320.3 million) on state communications between 2006 and 2010.
With a bitter campaign for next spring’s general election on the horizon, it is very likely that the government will make use of every bit of the legally available HUF 75 billion budget. Magyar Nemzet contacted Nkoh to request exact figures about this year’s communications spending, but the bureau did not respond by the time the daily went to print.