It’s a mistake to consider corruption a natural byproduct of politics.
When the news talks about billions (of forints) flying about, hundreds of millions embezzled, many millions of forints worth of bribes, the average citizen is not even aware that they are talking about his money. When it comes to the theft of public money, it doesn’t even occur to people that it is their wealth as well, and that they are being seriously damaged, György Szilágyi told our paper (Barikád-tran.). The Jobbik member of parliament who also heads the party’s anti-corruption work group believes that while a significant portion of the governing party’s supporters acknowledge that their favorite party is laced with corruption, many console themselves that Viktor Orbán is a “good king” who is not corrupt and who only wants what is good but is surrounded by bad advisors. The reality, however, adds the politician, is that the head of government is the highest director of the corruption system, without whose knowledge nothing can happen.
Translation of interview with Jobbik MP György Szilágyi entitled “If they steal public money, they are stealing from us” published in the September 15th, 2016 edition of print weekly Barikád, pp. 10-13.
Jobbik’s anti-corruption work group has been working for more than half a year. What experience have you gathered during that time? What do people consider to be corruption and how much does it interest them?
There is a tendency for us to believe that corruption is exclusively when somebody gives money to somebody else who takes steps in his interest. That is also that, but corruption does not only mean an abuse that confers a a direct material advantage, but much more than that. The world of nepotism is an organic part of corruption, as is the reciprocal system that Fidesz and MSZP routinely operated in the previous quarter of a century. If somebody wants to accomplish something, they have to approach the “relevant comrade”, which currently is a Fidesz politician or a relative, friend, or acquaintance of a Fidesz politician, who can help them. In a normal situation it should not have to work this way. If I wanted to be funny, I would quote Hofi by saying that “corruption is what you are left out of”, but the situation is far more serious and grim than that.
Are there at least approximate figures about the magnitude of domestic corruption?
Some estimates believe that 65-70 percent of public procurements are affected by corruption, and overpricing is estimated at 10-25 percent. What is even more astonishing and discouraging is that one survey found that 70 percent of people would not report corruption to the authorities if they noticed it. The reason for this is they do not trust the authorities, and, moreover, they do not find it particularly interesting if they experience such a phenomenon because many consider it only natural that public assets should disappear in this manner. Or, and this is at least as sad, they are afraid that if they report abuses they experience to an investigative authority, they could get into trouble. It is rather for this reason that the majority of people keep quiet. Or because they feel they are not able to change this situation, or because they themselves have already engaged in some form of corruption.
Are taxpaying citizens really so willing to allow wealth to wander into private pockets?
When the news talks about billions flying about, hundreds of millions being embezzled, many millions worth of bribes, the average citizen is not even aware that they are talking about his money. When it comes to the theft of public money, it doesn’t even occur to people that it is their wealth as well, and that they are being seriously damaged. Whereas it is very much their money that is taken out of their pockets. And yet they treat it as though they were stealing from someone else, and in this way they are not so sensitive to this problem. If somebody physically steals 3-4000 forints on a crowded streetcar, they become outraged. But if billions disappear practically from their pockets as well, that does not exceed their threshold of tolerance.
Andy Vajna’s hourly wage
What could be a way out of this situation?
Somehow we must change the way society thinks and finally make people aware that state property, public assets is also theirs, and that if that is stolen, it is also stolen from them. Perhaps this sounds like I’m repeating myself, but understanding this is key to achieving fundamental change and combatting corruption. So, for example, the money enriching Andy Vajna through various government concessions, that is also the taxpayers’ money. If we are talking about the person Viktor Orbán called one of the bravest Hungarians, we should note in connection to him that in recent years he made HUF 6 billion (USD 22 million) with his casino business which he took out of Hungary via offshore companies in which he has an interest. Andy Vajna makes HUF 16.5 million (USD 61,000) a day. HUF 11,500 (USD 42) a minute. The average Hungarian worker makes 2.5 forints (USD 0.01) a minute.
Why hasn’t the battle against embezzlement been more successful? Is there even a serious intention in this regard?
The biggest problem with the struggle against corruption is that the Hungarian people who stand to benefit the most are the ones least interested in this question: if voters no longer voted their confidence in 20th-century parties that built this system, and who were involved and benefited from the privatizations (and fraud involving changing the color of heating oil in order to sell it tax-free as fuel-tran.), then the corruption would be drastically reduced. That is completely sure! Because it is completely indifferent whether Fidesz or the left wing happens to be in government, the system has worked the same way for the past 26 years. The only difference is that Fidesz has developed corruption to the level of perfection, as a result of which we can now talk about state-level corruption.
Isn’t this state-level corruption merely a political slogan? Does a definition of this exist?
Naturally. When laws are passed by a governing majority that legalize corrupt activities, which is the case, and when they create laws that benefit relatives, friends, buddies and themselves via kickbacks. This includes the EU funds, the public procurement-related regulations, which make it possible for incredible amounts, many billions of forints, to wander to oligarchs chosen and “made great” by Fidesz.
It is no exaggeration to claim that in Hungary today there is a government which operates within a mafia system. There is the Godfather, under whom work the various underbosses, advisors (in mafia films they are called consiglieri), and capos, with everybody taking their own share of public assets depending on where they stand in the mafia hierarchy. If we could bring about a political structure capable of governing where corruption is not something to be expected but rather sanctioned, then there would be a chance of winding up corruption or at least drastically reducing it. But so long as Flórián Farkas, Roland Mengyi and Antal Rogán can live their lives in peace, don’t count on it!
Kádár and Orbán: the “good kings”
More and more it seems that Fidesz is not interested in unveiling corruption because in people’s eyes the assumption is so widely accepted that “politicians steal”, that public practice best protects this activity. In other words, the more visible and dirty politics are, and the corruption and world of favoritism, the less it interests voters.
I, too, have experienced this phenomenon, and in reality even Fidesz supporters acknowledge that their favorite party has been inundated with corruption. However, many console themselves with the notion that Viktor Orbán is the “good king” who is honorable and only wants what is good, but who surrounds himself with those who give him bad advice. Or, as they said during the time of Kádár, he does not know what is happening in the countryside or in the country. At the same time, anyone who knows anything about Viktor Orbán and who tries to understand how Fidesz operates cannot seriously believe that Viktor Orbán is a vacuous, decent person who does not know anything about what is happening around him. No! Viktor Orbán is the highest governor of the whole dirty, corrupt system. Without his knowledge, nothing can happen. Now honestly, does it sound realistic that without his knowledge or consent, or even his instruction, that the governing party is protecting Flórián Farkas? Didn’t he arrange for Péter Polt to be the chief prosecutor, who is also interested and even strives to ensure that the hand of the law never reaches Fidesz politicians? Or let’s look at the US visa ban scandal: In this case we don’t know anything concrete and yet they indicted one person who the prosecutors believe tried to solicit a bribe from an American company by referring to his influential friends. Do we really believe that an entrepreneur named Viktor Tábor sought out this company without having any connection either with Fidesz or Századvég? That he was acting on his own when he told the Americans he could arrange something favorable for them in exchange for billions of forints? Moreover, on the level of legislation? In such a way that the amount should be transferred to the account of Századvég which is close to Fidesz? Come on . . . think it through! If the whole thing was a lone action then why did the visa-ban scandal explode? The prosecution had no intention of thoroughly investigating the matter, and that’s already saying a lot. Equally shocking is how the letter László Vizoviczki sent to the Fradi president, Gábor Kubatov, asking help from the Fidesz party director, has disappeared without a trace while in the possession of prosecutors.
There is another body that is also responsible for investigating, and that is the National Tax and Duty Authority (NAV), which undersecretary András Tállai was appointed to head.
Similar to the prosecutorial services, NAV does not do anything in cases that could uncomfortably affect Fidesz. The investigating authorities simply disregarded witness testimony, and without batting an eyelid swept under the rug a case with threads leading to the governing party, as in the case of Antal Rogán or Roland Mengyi “Lord Voldemort”. He was caught red-handed taking a HUF 5 million bribe, but his superiors interceded and obstructed this. What kind of country are we living in? Outrageous . . .
Many really know corruption as constitutional costs, to use the words of Lord Voldemort. Fidesz defends this on the grounds that they already have experience governing, a serious body of experts stand behind them, which cannot be said about Jobbik, and for this reason it is not able to govern.
I would begin answering from farther afield: Today in Hungary the state (and Hungarian people) is deprived of HUF 2 trillion annually merely as a result of VAT fraud (which, by the way, they could eliminate except the current political elite is not interested). This is such a large amount that, on the one hand, you cannot even imagine it, and on the other, it is difficult to tie to anything concrete. The magnitude, however, can be better felt if we say that the Hungarian state spends that much on public health care each year. Or that if the government were to take on the VAT fraudsters, then it could spend twice as much on public health care. And now returning to the question: in my opinion a party that opposes these kinds of economic crimes is already more capable of governing, in that it would enable the budget to receive a huge amount of money. On a small scale this is already taking place in Jobbik-run settlements, which have put the local government’s finances in order by winding up the channels of corruption “operated” by the previous administrations. People should relate to politics in such a way that they know that what we are talking about is trust which the voters have advanced. They express with their votes whether they trust that a given party will run the country well. Fidesz and MSZP have received this trust and you can see where it has got the country. Both 20th-century parties abused this trust., or to put it simply, they tricked the people. If somebody lends an acquaintance HUF 10,000, that is built on trust. They trust that they will get the money back. If they do not get it back by the deadline or afterwards either, then will they give them another loan? The same principle should apply to politics. So long as a political organization thinks they can do whatever they want with impunity, then they will do it. At public forums I am in the habit of asking people, and I still do, of putting their faith in Jobbik so that we can govern the country and prove that this can be done cleanly. If this is not successful, if we abuse this trust, then they should never vote for us again.
But what is the situation with your group of experts? Do you have them or not?
I can say with confidence that after six years of parliamentary work, Jobbik has developed a circle of experts that makes it possible to undertake successful governance. It’s true that for now many dare not come forward in public because they fear for their jobs and their existence. Unfortunately, we live in such a country. At the same time I think it important to note that the ability to govern is not merely a question of how many experts or how many diplomas are behind a given political party, but also whether a government wants to obey the law, or whether it considers its friends, relatives and its own interests to be above the law. I will give you a concrete example. Between 2006 and 2010 the Budapest municipal government paid HUF 6 billion (USD 30 million) in penalties to various companies. This was necessary because the courts ruled that many public procurements had not been lawful and the losing companies were entitled to compensation for their troubles. I think this is a sly form of corruption, that they deliberately excluded companies unlawfully from public procurement, and then generously compensate them for their “losses.” And then, in 2010, Jobbik entered the city municipal government and Jobbik politician György Szabó was appointed to head the public procurement committee. Between 2010 and 2014 Budapest had to pay zero forints because of unlawful public procurement procedures. Put another way, it is thanks to Jobbik and the fact that György Szabó followed the law, that the government retained HUF 6 billion more than during the previous cycle. You could not approach him and tell him what company should win, and you couldn’t involve him in various corrupt matters, or get him to custom tailor a tender for a certain party or write a tender a certain way. That is just one example when a Jobbik politician did not do something miraculous, but saved billions for taxpayers by merely following the current laws which are not that effective. We received trust and we made good on it. I am convinced that it would work this way on a large scale as well if Jobbik came to power. That is why we are working so hard the next year and a half as well, and why we ask voters to give us their trust.